THE BLOG

Opening Our Doors to International Travelers

05/27/2014 03:47 pm ET | Updated Jul 27, 2014

What if we had a simple solution to provide a major stimulus that could quickly increase economic activity by billions of dollars, create more than one million jobs and cost the taxpayer nothing? We have exactly that opportunity right now in the travel industry - we just need to seize it.

We first must address the experience of visitors arriving in the United States at airports that handle international flights. All too often they have a very unwelcoming experience and an unpleasant first impression of our great country. Long lines and a complicated antiquated process greet these arrivals, and as a result, 43 percent of overseas travelers say they would recommend avoiding a trip to the U.S.

Last year, more than 70 million international travelers arrived within our borders, spending an average of $4,500 each. These numbers are impressive, but they could be much higher.

In fact, one billion international trips occurred last year alone, and global tourist arrivals are expected to double in the next 20 years. The U.S. is still one of the most popular destinations, but we must do more to compete for the hearts, minds and dollars of these international travelers. Despite a nearly 60 percent growth in international travel from 2000 to 2013, the U.S. share actually fell to 13.2 percent from 17 percent.

I applaud President Obama for his focus on regaining our country's lost market share. His most recent actions, announced May 22, to improve the entry process and welcome more international travelers here will help the U.S. better compete. With these new efforts, President Obama is essentially doubling down on the travel industry as an economic driver and job creator.

In 2009, President Obama set a goal of attracting 100 million international visitors annually and those visitors would add $250 billion to our economy every year. Recapturing our market share of overseas travelers would produce approximately $850 billion in cumulative additional economic output and create 1.3 million new jobs by 2020.

At Hilton Worldwide, we know the importance of hospitality, it's our business. Every day our more than 300,000 team members at over 4,100 hotels are focused on welcoming our guests from the moment they enter our doors. As a nation, we need to bring that same focus to not only welcoming visitors when they enter our country but from the moment they plan their visit with an improved visa process.

An important next step is expanding the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of specific countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa. Including more countries in this program will increase visitation from overseas travelers with no compromise in security because these visitors are coming from countries that have met strict security protocols.

If nations such as Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Israel, Panama, Poland, Romania and Uruguay were included in the program, it could result in one million additional international travelers each year. That would add more than $10.6 billion to the economy and support 63,200 additional American jobs each year.

I urge Congress to support the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act, bipartisan legislation that will responsibly expand the Visa Waiver Program and will have a direct and uniformly positive effect on our national economy. To win in the 21st century, America not only needs to build and grow great things, we also need to be great hosts.