HONOLULU, Hawaii – Former Governor Linda Lingle, candidate for Hawaii’s U.S. Senate seat, released the following statement after President Obama announced a plan to boost tourism and travel.
“President Obama’s statements in Florida are in line with the tourism-boosting programs and initiatives I advocated and worked for while Governor of Hawaii. If I am elected, I would be pleased to support the President’s tourism focused policies. With tourism and related businesses making up nearly 10% of our nation’s GDP and employing more than 14 million Americans, we need a strong, coordinated policy at the federal level to address tourism issues, including streamlining the visa process and expanding the Visa Waiver Program. Through a common sense approach to tourism policy and welcoming more of our neighbors from abroad, we can create more jobs in Hawaii and help restore the American economy,” said Governor Linda Lingle
As Governor, Lingle traveled to China in 2005 to meet with Shao Qiwei, the chairman of the Chinese National Tourism Administration, where she laid groundwork for an agreement between the State of Hawaii and China to increase two-way travel. In 2009, Gov. Lingle met with then U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman to establish certainty for interview times for Chinese travelers applying for a visa, designating a “trouble-shooting” point-of-contact at each U.S. consulate in China to focus on visa issuance and a process to facilitate last-minute travel applications. With the average Chinese tourist spending $325 a day in Hawaii, easing the travel process will inject more cash into the local economy, the former governor explained.
“As the former Mayor of the County of Maui and Governor of the State of Hawaii, I have had extensive experience with fostering the development and refinement of the hospitality industry in a manner that respects the host culture while giving our visitors a memorable experience that encourages repeat visits. As Senator, I intend to be an active policy advocate for the development and expansion of tourism as a key component of America’s economic recovery. I will work to develop a coordinated federal policy that includes expanding the visa waiver program and expediting the issuance of visas to overseas visitors without compromising national security.
“The President’s plan to boost processing capacity for non-immigrant visas in major U.S. bound travel markets like China and Brazil and expand the Visa Waiver Program is a good policy for America and will benefit Hawaii’s tourism industry. During my 2005 trip to South Korea, I led a 50-member delegation of Hawaii state officials and business leaders to promote travel to our islands and better understand the visa application procedure Korean citizens must endure in order to visit the United States. After personally visiting the U.S. Embassy and experiencing the lengthy process, my Administration and I focused on developing a special policy with the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to give preferential visa reviews to Korean citizens who hoped to celebrate their honeymoons in Hawaii. We also lobbied the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to grant Korea a visa waiver country status in order to significantly increase tourism to Hawaii. I am pleased to say the U.S. granted the visa waiver in 2008 which now allows South Koreans to travel to the America for up to 90 days without going through the burdensome visa process. Expanding this program will open Hawaii to more economic opportunities, serving our international partners as the gateway to the West,” Gov. Lingle added.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, if tourism in the United States could be restored to the year 2000 levels of visitors to the country, 1.3 million jobs would be created.