US travel industry leader downplays the idea high prices are driving away international visitors

The leading lobbying group for the U.S. travel industry recently highlighted a major concern: inefficient policies and friction points are causing the United States to lose its competitive edge in attracting international visitors. Contrary to popular belief, high prices on airfare and hotel rates are not the primary deterrents. Instead, factors such as long tourist visa wait times and lagging security screening technology are driving potential visitors away.

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association and Euromonitor International, the U.S. is at risk of losing 39 million visitors with a combined $150 billion in spending power over the next decade due to “excessive” visitor visa wait times. The study also ranked the U.S. 17th out of 18 top travel destinations in terms of overall global tourism competitiveness. The U.K., France, and Turkey claimed the top three spots, while China ranked lower than the U.S.

Geoff Freeman, the president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, expressed concern over the country’s lagging competitiveness. In a press conference, Freeman stated, “The competition is outperforming us. The economic cost of these failures is in the billions of dollars.”

To better understand the slow return of international travel to the U.S. following the end of pandemic-related restrictions, the U.S. Travel Association commissioned a report. The findings revealed that while the U.S. remains the most-desired destination for global travelers, it ranks third in terms of actual international visitor count, behind Spain and France. Spain, France, Turkey, Mexico, the U.K., Greece, and the United Arab Emirates all exceeded their pre-pandemic international visitor levels.

The report identified several areas where the U.S. falls short in terms of competitiveness. These include government leadership on travel-related issues, national travel strategy, safety and security, visa wait times, and visa waivers. The U.S. only grants visa-free travel privileges to 42 countries, while the U.K. offers this privilege to 102 countries. Additionally, the U.S. ranks in the middle in terms of biometric security screening capabilities, which could improve air travel efficiency.

One notable finding is that the high cost of hotels and airfare in the U.S. was not mentioned as a significant deterrent for international visitors. While it may play a role for some travelers, it is not the primary factor. The report suggests that these issues have been ongoing for decades, and their effects are now becoming more pronounced. Despite inflationary pressures worldwide, the U.S. is relatively moderate in terms of cost compared to other countries.

Geoff Freeman emphasized that while the market will naturally address pricing issues for consumers, it is the government’s responsibility to address the longer-term factors driving visitors away. He stated, “We will continue to look at the roadblocks we put in place that can be addressed, and those are, by and large, the roadblocks that are created and perpetuated by government.”

In conclusion, the U.S. travel industry is facing challenges in attracting international visitors due to inefficient policies and friction points such as long visa wait times and lagging security screening technology. These factors, rather than high prices on airfare and hotel rates, are causing the U.S. to lose its competitive edge. To remain a top travel destination, the U.S. government must address these issues and improve its overall tourism competitiveness.

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