WHAT’S IN A name? Hotel and travel industry leaders hope it’s the key to better understanding and acceptance of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows pre-screened, pre-approved travelers from participating countries to travel to the United States for stays of up to 90 days.
Last week, Reps. Tom Rice (Republican-South Carolina) Mike Quigley (Democrat-Illinois), Raja Krishnamoorthi (Democrat-Illinois), and Guy Reschenthaler (Republican-Pennsylvania) introduced a bill to change the name of the program to the Secure Travel Partnership. The Congressmen say the new name “more accurately reflects the mission and security of the program” while also encouraging tourism to the U.S.
“The Visa Waiver Program exists as a crucial program that protects our nation’s security, creates American jobs, and bolsters alliances with our friends,” said Krishnamoorthi. “The rebranding of the Visa Waiver Program to the Secure Travel Partnership encapsulates these major benefits to our economy and national security, while eliminating any confusion about the true mission of this program.”
“Rebranding the Visa Waiver Program will have a lot of downstream benefits for both U.S. security and the U.S. economy,” USTA Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Barnes said. “For many, the program has had the connotation of relaxed security standards, when in fact the opposite is true: membership in the VWP subjects entrants to rigorous pre-travel vetting, mandates other security enhancements such as un-counterfeitable biometric passports, and enables invaluable intelligence-sharing with our partners in the program. Just as good, facilitating travel for citizens of our closest security allies also entails billions of dollars in proven economic impact.”
The program boosts and industry that in turn benefits the U.S. economy, said AHLA Executive Vice President of Government Affairs Brian Crawford.
“Travel and tourism is a critical driver of the American economy, generating $2.3 trillion in economic output and supporting one in nine American jobs,” Crawford said. “Working with the broader travel community, the hotel industry supports policy initiatives that promote tourism, including the Secure Travel Partnership Program which will increase international business and leisure travel while simultaneously enhancing national security.”
In 2017, the Visa Waiver Program allowed 23 million travelers to visit the United States, generated over $190 billion, and supported nearly one million jobs. Previously, USTA’s Travel Trends Index showed international inbound traffic to the U.S. grew 3.8 percent, beating October’s 2.4 percent growth, but the association still predicts growth for that category to shrink to 1 percent through May.