The Obama Administration's number one priority is to strengthen our economy, create jobs, and restore economic security for the middle class. One way to help strengthen the economy is to make the U.S. the top destination for international visitors. Since the President issued an Executive Order in January and the National Travel and Tourism Strategy was subsequently released by this Administration in May, the Departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, Interior, and State have put a priority on expanding travel to and within the U.S., while remaining vigilant in protecting our national security.
Today, we learned that these efforts are working. The U.S. Department of Commerce announced that international visitors spent an estimated $13.7 billion on travel to, and tourism-related activities within, the United States during the month of July--$350 million (3 percent) more than was spent in July 2011. Travel and tourism-related exports have increased, on average, more than $1.1 billion a month during the first seven months of 2012.
Also today, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released estimates for the second quarter 2012 from their Travel and Tourism Satellite Accounts. These accounts present a detailed picture of travel and tourism activity and its role in the U.S. economy, including estimates of spending by travelers in six categories of goods and service as well as estimates of the employment generated by travel and tourism and related industries. Today's data reveal that real spending on travel and tourism increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the second quarter of 2012 after increasing 4.9 percent (revised) in the first quarter of 2012, supporting 7.6 million jobs.
Recent visitors can access the newly redesigned recreation.gov, the federal government's one-stop shop for trip planning and reservations on public lands, such as national parks, wildlife refuges, waterways, forests and recreation areas. This year alone, more than 6 million people have visited the site to learn more about exploring America's great outdoors. A key feature of the new site is suggested travel itineraries to several top destinations for international visitors - Denver, Las Vegas, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco. These pre-planned circuits encourage travelers to expand their itineraries by one or more days to take in lesser-known destinations. Longer visits and more expansive itineraries will translate to more tourism dollars and more jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry throughout the U.S.
In addition, the White House today released a Department of State and Department of Homeland Security report highlighting the progress of efforts to make the United States more welcoming to international visitors and demonstrating that they are on track to meet the goals of the President's January Executive Order. It notes that the State Department is exceeding the President's interview wait time goal - earlier this summer 85 percent of applicants worldwide were being interviewed for visas within three weeks of submitting their applications and currently the figure is up to 88 percent. In key markets such as China, Consular officers are keeping interview wait times to an average of five days in 2012 while managing a 37 percent increase in visa demand. Consular officers in Brazil have brought wait times down by 98 percent, from a high of 140 days in São Paulo, to just two days right now, while also managing a 37 percent jump in demand. The Department of Homeland Security has processed 500,000 more Global Entry passengers in 2012, compared to the same time in 2011, and more than 1.5 million people, including more than 325,000 new members this year, have access to Trusted Traveler Programs.
This year, the Department of State passed a 1 million visa milestone not only in Mexico, but also in China, and, just last month, Brazil.
All of these numbers underscore the importance of the travel and tourism industry to the U.S. economy - and the value of the Administration's efforts to attract more international visitors to the United States.