Obama puts out 'Tourists Welcomed' sign
Updated: 2014-05-23 07:32
By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily USA)
US President Barack Obama wants to create jobs and boost the economy by attracting more foreign tourists to the country.
Speaking on Thursday at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, Obama said, "When it comes to tourism, we have a great product to sell. Nothing says ‘Made in America' better than the Empire State Building or the Hoover Dam."
In a speech last week, Obama said, "Believe it or not, tourism is an export… And if we make it easier for more foreign visitors to visit and spend money at America's attractions and unparalleled national parks, that helps local businesses and grows the economy for everyone."
Travel and tourism were responsible for $1.5 trillion in economic activity across the US last year, supporting 8 million jobs, according to Obama.
"Tourism translates into jobs, and it translates into economic growth," he said Thursday, adding that travelers "don't just check out the (Hall of Fame), they rent cars, they stay at hotels, they eat at restaurants."
The US president revealed that while taking a 10-minute walk to the Interior Department on Wednesday to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in southern New Mexico a National Monument, he encountered tourists from Germany, Brazil, China, Israel and Ukraine at the National Mall.
Earlier on Thursday, Obama signed a presidential memorandum giving secretaries at the Homeland Security and Commerce departments four months to come up with a plan to streamline the entry process for foreign visitors to reduce wait times. He also asked the departments to work with the nation's largest airports to cut wait times for foreign tourists.
A record 70 million foreign citizens visited the US in 2013, according to a White House report; that compared to 55 million in 2009.
"I want to turn the 70 million tourists that came last year into 100 million each year by the beginning of the next decade," Obama said, triggering loud applause.
An estimated 1.8 million Chinese tourists visited the US in 2013. And that number is expected to grow by 21 percent in 2014 to 2.1 million, according to the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries under the Commerce Department.
The ease of applying for US visas in the past two years has encouraged more Chinese to come to the country. Wait time for a visa in China on average has been cut to less than five days on average from as many as 100 days.
The State Department issued 9.2 million visas worldwide in 2013, up 42 percent over 2010, the report said.
On Wednesday at the Beijing Capital International Airport, about 300 Chinese tourists, all in red T-shirts, were boarding an Air China flight to Los Angeles for their eight-day trip that will take them not just to Los Angeles, but to San Diego, Las Vegas and other destinations on the West Coast.
They are part of a 7,000-people business delegation departing from several Chinese cities in groups this month for Anaheim California. They are expected to contribute $85 million to the local economy. California alone received 600,000 Chinese tourists in 2013 and that figure is expected to hit 800,000 this year.
At the National Mall, a Chinese couple, who asked to be identified by their last name Liu, told China Daily on Thursday that before arriving in the US, they had visited several countries in Europe and Asia this year. Sightseeing and shopping will be the highlight of their US trip, they said.
However, long lines at airport immigration and border control points are a concern for some.
Xiao Li, who is flying from Shanghai to Boston via Detroit on Friday, said she has booked a connecting flight with more than three hours layover in Detroit because she is worried that the flight with only a 70-minute layover would not be enough time for her to go through immigration.
Li will visit major cities on the East Coast, including New York, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia, as well as Niagara Falls.
Like many Chinese tourists, she said shopping at Woodbury Premium Common Outlets just north of New York is a must.
According to the US Travel Association, Chinese visitors to the US spent some $8.8 billion in 2012, averaging about $6,000 per person. The Commerce Department put the total number of Chinese tourists that year at 1.5 million.
Lin Meng contributed to the reporting