“There’s no question that people want to come here. But if we
continue down the path of making it difficult to get into the United States, we’re going to lose this business.” —Jorge Franz, Greater Houston CVB
States is akin to hanging a sign on the door that says, “Closed for business,” said Patricia Rojas, vice president of government relations for the U.S. Travel Association. She and other reform proponents argue that maintaining national security and easing entry policies are not mutually exclusive. Rather, by facilitating the process for people with legitimate business travel to the United States, consular staff can dedicate more time and attention to those whomight pose credible security and immigration threats. Some industry observers point to theUnited States’ recent lift-
ing ofits HIV-entry ban as a clear example ofhow entry poli- cies affect a country’s ability to attract international meeting attendees. In 1987, the United States began barring HIV-posi- tive travelers from entering the country; soon after, the Interna- tional AIDS Conference adopted a policy that prohibited the meeting from being held in a country with such a policy, and for 21 years, the leading minds in AIDS research and science—and about 30,000 attendees— convened elsewhere. When the United States lifted the ban effective January 2010, the news was immediately greeted with the announce- ment that the 2012 International AIDS Con- ference would be held inWashington, D.C. As for current entry policies, officials from
Waiver Program (VWP), who can travel to the United States for stays of90 days or less without obtaining a visa. VWP coun- tries includeWestern European nations, Japan, and South Korea. All other foreign visitors, including those from the BRIC
nations, must obtain a visa from the U.S. embassy or consulate office in theirhome country. Most international attendees require a Business Visitor Visa (B-1); all B-1 applicants must submit a visa application, present a valid passport, pay a processing fee, and have an in-person interview—a security measure imple- mented in 2003—at the embassy or consulate within their coun- try. The interview requirement has led to increased processing time across the board, and especially long wait times in those countrieswith growing economies and increased outbound travel. Between 2000 and 2010, visa requests in India, Brazil, and China increased 110 percent. The currentwait timefor a visa interview in Sao Paolo is 99 days, plus another seven days for visa processing. Although travelers from VWP countries
CERTIFICATION MADE POSSIBLE
make up the majority of international visitors to theUnited States, recent statistics reflect the shifting global economy. In 2010, visitation from China increased 53 percent over 2009 (221 percent over 2000), according to the U.S.
the U.S. State and Commerce departments counter that recent changes have improved the situation—wait times for Chinese visa applicants, for example, are down significantly—and that theUnited States is well positioned to capture the global tourism market. What’s more, government representatives and some meeting professionals contend that the current climate is not as bad as perceived—and that ongoing education can dispel myths about travel hassles and boost international attendance. So what’s a meeting professionalwhowants to attract an inter-
national audience to a U.S.-based event to do? Take the advice of those in the trenches who are successfully recruiting interna- tional attendees in the current environment:Doyour homework, start early, and be proactive.
Visas and VisaWaivers For entry into the United States, all citizens of foreign countries must have a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay. The excep- tion is nationals from the 36 countries that are part of the Visa
Department ofCommerce,while visitation fromBrazil increased 34 percent over 2009. InWashington, D.C., Brazilian visitors accounted for 5.5 percent of the city’s 1.74 million international visitors—up nearly 40 percent over 2009. And although inter- national travelers made up 10 percent ofthe city’s international visitors, they accounted for 25 percent of total spending. “The way that we, as a country, look at the visa process and
at the international visitor needs to be adjusted,” Rojas said.“We need to be thinking about this as a job-creation engine for the United States.” Increasing the number ofoverseas visitors to more than 40 million—up from 26.4 million in 2010—would cre- ate up to 500,000 new jobs, Rojas said, and generate up to $60 billion in additional exports annually.
Going After International Business Recognizing the potential ofthese emerging markets, more con- vention and visitors bureaus are actively pursuing international meetings.GHCVB, Destination DC, LA INC., and the Chicago