The Washington Post

Obama touts tourism, acts to streamline foreign visitors’ entry to the U.S.

On the cusp of summer, President Obama will journey to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Thursday to promote American tourism.

Obama, who will welcome travel and tourism industry CEOs to the White House in the morning before flying to New York State, will also announce a couple of executive actions aimed at bringing more visitors to the United States.

President Obama will direct Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to develop and implement plans at the nation’s 15 largest airports over the next four months to improve the entry process to the U.S. and cut wait times. DHS will also expand automated passport control kiosks at airports, while six agencies will work to lure tourists by working with the public-private partnership Brand USA to launch campaigns in 10 international markets.

Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare airports have used technology to cut their average wait times to 15 minutes, according to National Economic Council director Jeffrey Zients, a nearly 40 percent reduction.

Zients told reporters in a conference call Wednesday that the travel and tourism industry supports a total of 8 million jobs in the U.S., 1.3 million of which stem from international visits.

“More international visitors equals more jobs,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

Chris Thompson, CEO of Brand USA, wrote in an e-mail that Obama’s visit to the “iconic tourist landmark” of Cooperstown and his other tourism-themed event “mark an important moment in our country’s National Travel and Tourism Strategy.”

That strategy, launched by Obama, aims to attract 100 million international visitors a year to the U.S. by the end of 2021.  So far, number of foreign visitors has risen from 55 million in 2009 to 70 million last year.

Now, is this whole tourism-themed an excuse for some baseball enthusiasts at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to tour the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Zients, who is so devoted to the sport that he not only helped bring major league baseball back to Washington D.C. he was part of group that (unsuccessfully) tried to buy the Washington Nationals, acknowledged it might not have been a totally impartial pick.

“Well, let me admit that I am a big baseball fan, as I think Valerie is also,” he explained, referring to White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who was also on the call. “And as everyone knows, baseball is one of our great American pastimes, bringing families and communities together… So the location we think is ideal to highlight the importance of travel and tourism, and particularly for the international visitors, given the international nature of the game and the importance of travel and tourism to the U.S. economy.”

“And it’s the hottest ticket in the White House,” Jarrett chimed in. “Everybody wants to go.”

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.



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