Mayor Daley, the mayors of Honolulu and Miami, and travel industry leaders told Republican presidential hopeful John McCain today that the United States needs to ease the visa process for foreign visitors to boost tourism .
“As the travel process becomes more difficult, America’s economy and image suffers,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the Travel Industry Association, who was among those meeting with the Arizona senator after McCain’s speech to the National Restaurant Association at McCormick Place.
Dow said Daley pointed out to McCain that the 2016 Olympics, which Daley wants in Chicago, represents a golden opportunity to showcase the United States. But fans won’t come if it’s too hard to get a visa.
“If you can’t get the fans to the Olympics, you can’t have an Olympics,” Dow said.
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, chair of the tourism committee for the US Conference of Mayors, said that since the 9-11 attacks, international travel has gone up 20 percent around the world, but travel to the United States has gone down 17 percent.
“We have lost 250,000 jobs. A lot of that is due to we are now regarded as an unfriendly place to visit,” said Hannemann.
One example of this problem is Brazil — where it takes almost 100 days just to get an appointment to inquire about a US travel visa, Dow said. Brazil is one of 27 countries where citizens must get a visa to travel to the United States.
“We’ve lost half a million Brazilian visitors over the past seven years because of this, and they’re going around the world like crazy,” Dow said.
Dow said McCain was sympathetic to the group’s concerns, although the candidate emphasized that it was important to keep the borders safe. Dow said the travel industry wants to keep the visa process secure, but make it less burdensome — making it possible to get a visa in 30 days anywhere in the world.
“If we keep the good people out. . . .we’re going to create animosity, which will just fuel the problems we’re trying to prevent,” Dow said.
Travel industry leaders, who also want to talk to the Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, asked McCain for his support for a bill before Congress for an outreach program that would educate foreign travelers about US travel rules.
Dow said McCain expressed support for modernizing the air traffic control system in order to reduce airport delays.