Where have all the international attendees gone?

Us border signby John Folks

It wasn’t that long ago that those of us in the business travel and convention industries were cringing at comments from our government officials and negative press around meetings and incentives. “Boondoggles,” “unnecessary extravagances,” and “shameful wasted spending” were common adjectives, and our industry felt the pressure as organizations pulled back on meetings.

However, over the last several years, President Obama has changed his position, at least in part due to the meetings industry economic impact study that was released a year ago. The Travel Promotion Act was enacted this past year, and last week, at Walt Disney World, President Obama announced the need for a national travel strategy that would include making the visa process easier for international visitors.

Why is this important? Estimates are that our cumbersome visa process kept over 70 million international visitors from entering the US over the last 10 years, which translated into over $600 billion in lost revenue. Yes, we all want to stay safe, but most western countries have an easier visa process and requirements than we do, and we need to be more competitive to show the international business community they are welcome at conventions on American soil. A travel strategy is a good start, but a strategy is merely a roadmap until someone takes the wheel and drives. Help spread the word that more needs to be done, and let’s hope there’s plenty of gas in the car.

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