Super Tuesday has come and gone but the Travel Detective has a plan for how the next person in office can boost tourism and bolster our economy.
Every day people tell me about their travel problems, and one issue that comes up again and again is U.S. Custom and Border Protection. The Obama administration has relaxed the visa waiver program, so when are they going to work with Customs and Border Protection to staff our airports in a proper way?
I experienced the problem first hand when I came in from Tokyo, landing in Los Angeles. American Airlines used to have their own international traveler processing facility, but this time they had closed the terminal to incoming passengers. After an 11-hour flight, we were shepherded over half a mile to the Tom Bradley customs area. Once we got there, we were stuck behind an Airbus 380 from Korean Airlines. It was madness -- and to make matters worse there were hundreds of people in front of us. It's understandable that it takes time to process two full planes. However, there are about 68 different inspection stations for Customs and Border Protection at Tom Bradley International and only 22 were staffed. That's less than a third.
Foreign passengers were waiting up to an hour! In the 2012, this is unacceptable!
The U.S. is about to have a huge influx of foreign visitors, following the Obama administration's new tourism plan. There is tremendous pent up demand for travel to the U.S., and we should aspire to make all visitors feel welcome. If the very first person you come in contact with is not welcoming, or you have to wait an hour to clear customs, it is not a good sign.
I'm not saying that we shouldn't have rules or security protection, but that we should be saying welcome to the United States. We haven't done that! We've had a lost decade of visitors because we weren't perceived as, nor were we, welcoming. That lost decade translates to millions of jobs lost in our country.
Do you know what we charge an Argentinian to come to the United States? A $131 visa-processing fee. How many people that does that visa fee alone disenfranchise? This is not the way to work. You want people to visit, spend money and experience our country.
The good news is that the Obama administration is changing the visa wait time from three to four months to two weeks. There is pent up demand from the Brazilians, the Chinese and the Indians, who want to come to the United States. And we need them. To put this into perspective, the average Chinese visitor spends $6,000 in one week in the U.S.
In order for this plan to work, we need to create a welcoming atmosphere. It's time to lobby our representatives in the House and Senate to properly staff our gateway city airports. We need to be more welcoming and once we do, our economy will thrive.