Mayors call for focus on tourism
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Mufi Hannemann and other U.S. cities' mayors are calling on the federal government to ease constraints on foreign tourism, which has fallen by 17 percent since 2000.
Hannemann hosted a meeting yesterday with leaders of the Travel Business Roundtable and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to discuss what needs to be done to make travel and tourism a higher national priority.
Hawaii, along with many other U.S. destinations, has continued to struggle in recent years with a declining base of international visitors.
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Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann has joined other mayors in asking top government leaders for more marketing dollars and reforms that will make it more appealing and more convenient for overseas tourists to visit the United States.
Hannemann hosted a meeting yesterday with key leaders of the Travel Business Roundtable and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to discuss what needs to be done to make travel and tourism a national policy priority.
Overseas travel to the United States has fallen 17 percent since its peak in 2000, with a cumulative cost of more than $100 billion in lost visitor spending, Hannemann said.
While declines have been felt across the board, the nation's top destination cities, including Honolulu, have felt the drop more acutely, he said. Hawaii, along with many other destinations, has continued to struggle in recent years with a declining base of international visitors. Last year, total visitor arrivals from Japan to Hawaii fell by 9.4 percent and resulted in a 6.5 percent drop in visitor spending.
Fewer tourists visiting Hawaii means less money will flow through the local economy, fewer jobs will be created or maintained and tax revenues for the city and state will decline.
As the U.S. loses ground to other emerging destinations, it's important that the government identify new visitor feeder markets, the mayors said. As many as 80 percent of mayors, including Hannemann, surveyed by the Travel Business Roundtable say that they support expanding the visa waiver program, which provides greater ease of access to the United States for visitors from certain countries.
"We feel that we can achieve security and hospitality -- they aren't mutually exclusive," said Chuck Merin, president of the Travel Business Roundtable.
Honolulu, a gateway city for the Asia Pacific region, would benefit greatly if access was eased for countries like China and South Korea, Hannemann said.
"There are 27 visa waivers that the U.S. has given out but only four of them are within the Asia Pacific region," he said. "If they lifted some of those restrictions, Honolulu could certainly serve as a bridge. Asians are comfortable with Hawaii."
State officials have said they hope South Korea could become a visa-waiver nation early next year.
A full 75 percent of United States mayors surveyed said that they have seen a substantial return on investment for the marketing dollars that they have spent overseas.
As a result, 80 percent of mayors have said that travel should be a top priority for the 2008 presidential candidates and 100 percent regard travel as a crucial part of their economic vitality.
There should be a cabinet post that relates to tourism, said Mayor Douglas Palmer of Trenton, N.J. who serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
"It's troubling that we are losing a share of a market that was once a strong source for our economy," Palmer said. "We just can't sit by and let a share of our economy leave the U.S."
The meeting in Honolulu was a follow-up to a survey published by the Travel Business Roundtable in June, which examined the decline in overseas travel to America's cities.