09/19/2012 03:46 pm ET

White House Releases Progress Report On Travel Industry Improvements

The U.S. is making progress in welcoming foreign visitors to the country, adding overseas visa officers and facilities to reduce wait times for Brazilian and Chinese vistiors, a new White House report details.

The document is a 180-day progress report on tourism industry initiatives first announced at the beginning of 2012, when President Obama promised a new focus on attracting lucrative foreign visitors who spend more on average than domestic travelers.

"International visitor arrivals increased 10 percent in the first three months of the calendar year 2012, compared to visitor arrivals over the same time period in 2011," the report says, citing Commerce Department statistics.

Two countries are receiving the bulk of the administration's attention with good reason.

"Demand for [short-term business and tourist visas] in Brazil and China surged by 38 percent and 48 percent, respectively," the report states. "This trend does not appear to be short-lived. Bolstered by strong economic growth, China is expected to generate a 198 percent increase from current levels in international visitation by 2016."

The travel industry remains a potential source of huge economic potential that both Republican and Democratic candidates on the national stage have largely ignored. (Rep. Sam Farr of California has been one notable exception to this rule.)

Local leaders, however, are betting their economic future on tourism, as mayors in Philadelphia and Baltimore recently wrote on HuffPost Travel. New York City and Las Vegas, too, rely heavily on tourism as a source of jobs and tax revenue.

The non-profit U.S. Travel Association trumpeted the news from the White House in a press release.

"Travel, which is outpacing all other economic sectors in job creation by 30 percent this year, plays a critical role in creating jobs and revenue for local communities and states nationwide," USTA president and CEO Roger Dow says in the release.

The advocacy organization also repeated calls to Congress to pass the JOLT (Jobs Originated through Launching Travel) act, which would further reform the visa process for foreign visitors, USTA says.

Speaking to HuffPost Travel before today's announcement, USTA Chief Operating Officer Geoff Freeman called that legislation vitally important.

"The White House made great strides in reducing visa wait times," Freeman said. "But you have to make sure this more efficient visa process is sustainable, and that's what the JOLT act would help do. The JOLT act would help ensure that the United States is the world's most secure destination while also being one of the most travel-friendly."

"You're looking at an industry sector that is adding jobs at a faster pace than any other sector out there," Freeman added. "So there is great opportunity in this space."