Deputy Chief of Mission Laura F. Dogu at the Panel on “Enhancing Tourism Between Mexico & the United States”
I am pleased to join this distinguished panel to talk about what the U.S. Government is doing to promote tourism to the United States.
Tourism is the most important service export for the United States, and the U.S. government has put a strong emphasis on promoting this sector in the past year, developing ways to increase the number of visitors to the United States in a safe and efficient manner.
Recognizing the importance of tourism for our economy, earlier this year President Obama issued an Executive Order that directed federal agencies to aggressively expand our nation’s ability to attract and welcome visitors while maintaining the highest standards of security.
The goal of this effort is to attract 100 million tourists and 250 billion dollars per year in annual travel and tourism-related spending to the United States by 2021. This would increase current visitor and spending numbers by about 60 percent.
In 2011, approximately 60 million international visitors traveled to New York, California, Florida, Texas, Las Vegas, and many other destinations throughout the United States.
Of those, more than 13 million visitors were from Mexico, more than from any other country except Canada. And while in the United States, Mexican tourists spent over 9 billion dollars during the year, placing them fourth among our visitors from around the world. Americans also frequented Mexico in 2011.
The United States was the number 1 source of foreign tourists last year as Americans flocked to the beaches, colonial towns, and other tourist locations in Mexico. Last year over 20 million Americans vacationed in Mexico and during their stay spent over 9 billion dollars.
We expect all of these figures to rise in coming years as new direct flights are established between the U.S. and Mexico, including ones to Orange County, San Antonio, Denver, and additional routes to New York, Miami, and Washington DC.The U.S. tourism and travel industry contributed $1.4 trillion in economic activity supporting 7.5 million jobs in 2011. 1.2 million of those jobs are due to international tourists.
The travel and tourism industry projects that more than 1 million American jobs could be created over the next decade if the goal of attracting 100 million foreign tourists per year is accomplished.
In order to facilitate travel to the United States, in Mexico interviews for most people renewing a visa are no longer required.
From January through August 2012, Mission Mexico has adjudicated more than 1.5 million visas and border crossing cards, a 33 percent increase from last year.
In June we opened three new Applicant Service Centers in the border communities of Mexicali, Piedras Negras and Reynosa, to facilitate visa renewal and stimulate travel in the border zone.
This is all part of a broader global strategy to enhance international tourism to the United States. Last year, for example, over 7.5 million non-immigrant visas were issued worldwide – a 17% increase over 2010.
In addition, frequent Mexican travelers to the United States can benefit from the Global Entry Program. The program grants qualified Mexican citizens expedited entry into the United States using automated kiosks at over 25 participating airports, eliminating the need to wait in long immigration lines. Thus far over 11,000 Mexican citizens have joined this program.
And Mexico is developing a similar program to expedite the clearance of frequent U.S. travelers to Mexico.The U.S. government has also established a public-private partnership called Brand USA with the goal of promoting the United States as the premier destination in the world for foreign tourists.
One initiative of Brand USA will be to launch a media campaign in Mexico later this year. Similar campaigns in Great Britain, Canada, and Japan have resulted in many more tourists planning visits to the United States.
Yesterday, Mexico concluded the 3rd annual Feria Internacional de Turismo de las Americas, the most important travel and tourism trade show in Mexico where over 600 companies, 40 international destinations, and 15,000 attendees participated. I recommend all tourism destinations and service providers consider exhibiting at next year’s show.
Earlier this year Mexico hosted the T20 and World Travel and Tourism Conference as well – a reflection of the importance placed on this sector by the Mexican government.
In addition, we continue to work toward achieving the goals of President Obama's 100,000 Strong in the Americas program, which aims to increase higher education exchanges between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean to 100,000 each year in each direction.
From Latin America, there were 65,000 students last year to the US, of which 20,000 were from Mexico and Central America. There were 40,000 American students to Latin America last year, of which just under 20,000 came to Mexico and Central America.
Ambassador Wayne and Mexican Ambassador to the US Sarukhan are working together to encourage university and college exchange programs to increase the flow of students in both directions, and similar actions are taking place through the State Departmentand our Embassies throughout the region, in an effort to reach that 100,000 goal.
To get there, we need the help not only of governments and academic institutions – we really need the active involvement of the private sector.
If each of you funded one student, think what a difference that could make, to their lives and to mutual understanding in the hemisphere!
With specific regards to tourism and travel in the border region, we have established goals under the 21st Century Border Initiative to facilitate the secure and efficient flow of people and goods across the border through improved trusted traveler and shipper programs, the deployment of new technology at the ports of entry, and improved customs processing procedures.
We don’t just want to make more ports of entry, we want to make them safer and smarter.
We want our known frequent travelers, tourists, and shippers to transit the borders quickly and efficiently instead of subjecting them to needless inspections and delays.
By improving efficiencies at the border, people and businesses will be able to move more quickly and economically without facing expensive and time-consuming delays.
Tourism and travel is alive and well in the United States and Mexico and I encourage all of you here today to visit the wonderful sights these two beautiful countries have to offer.