Innovative Solutions Emerged as U.S. Departments Address Visa Delays in High-Stakes Summit

In Washington, D.C., this week, inbound tour operators from the U.S. representing various international markets convened with officials from the U.S. Departments of State, Commerce, Homeland Security, and Interior. The focus of their discussions centered on the current state of recovery in inbound travel and the persistent challenges faced, notably the prolonged wait times for U.S. visa interviews across many nations.

Leadership from the International Inbound Travel Association, alongside several of its members, contributed market insights and perspectives on critical factors influencing international visitation. Of particular concern were the significant wait times observed in numerous source markets. The group highlighted the increasing demand for efficient visa processing, catering to both leisure travelers and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) groups. They emphasized upcoming major events scheduled to take place in the U.S. over the next few years, including the FIFA World Cup, Route 66’s 100th Anniversary, the USA’s 250th Anniversary, and the Olympics.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services, Julie Stufft, outlined several ongoing initiatives aimed at addressing visa wait time concerns. These include the expansion of a global remote processing center to handle visa applications that do not necessitate an in-person interview, the option for individuals to apply for U.S. visas outside their country of residence, and the reinforcement of staffing in China in anticipation of increased travel to the USA.

“We are really proud of the work our embassies and consulates are doing to facilitate travel to
the United States, and we understand the impacts the visa process has on the travel and
tourism industry,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Stufft. “The positive momentum of 2023
continues in 2024 as we break visa issuance records.
“DAS Stufft and her team are genuinely interested in hearing about market conditions, including
visa wait times, directly from inbound operators who essentially have boots on the ground with
their vast networks of travel trade partners,” said Lisa Simon, IITA CEO/Executive Director. “We
understand there are challenges, and we appreciate the focus and priority placed on improving
visa processing and entry experiences given the rapidly growing demand for the USA. We don’t
see that demand slowing down any time soon.”

Additional U.S. Government representatives engaged in the roundtable dialogue included Brian Beall, who serves as the Director of the National Travel and Tourism Office within the Department of Commerce, and Kim Weissman, who holds the position of Senior Communications Director for Customs and Border Protection within the Department of Homeland Security. They offered insights and updates pertinent to their respective departments, underlining the continued commitment to inter-departmental collaboration aimed at mitigating obstacles and facilitating the entry of international travelers to the United States.

The attendees at IITA comprised:

  • Lena Ross, serving as the Chairwoman and COO of America 4 You
  • Petra Hackworth, holding the position of Vice President of Global Sales at Travel Oregon
  • Umang Malbari, acting as the CEO of Discover Destinations
  • Pabs Raghava, fulfilling the role of CEO at Tours Limited
  • Peter van Berkel, who previously chaired IITA and currently presides over Travalco
  • Lisa Simon, serving as the CEO and Executive Director of IITA

As part of the travel industry’s legislative fly-in event, Destination Capitol Hill, organized by the U.S. Travel Association, the delegation from the International Inbound Travel Association (IITA) journeyed to Washington. This gathering brought together industry professionals from every state to deliberate on priorities focused on boosting global competitiveness, spurring economic growth, and creating and sustaining jobs nationwide. Notably, IITA has proudly sponsored this event for the past seven years.

During their visit, IITA leaders also engaged in discussions with officials from the National Park Service regarding upcoming plans for a systemwide Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) permit program for road-based commercial tours, slated to commence in 2026. They provided valuable input on managed access issues affecting the visitor experience in national parks.

The International Inbound Travel Association serves as the premier trade association representing the inbound travel industry in the United States. Its membership comprises leading U.S.-based inbound operators, which offer business-to-business (B2B) travel services to international tour operators and travel buyers worldwide. Additionally, other members include U.S. destinations and suppliers collaborating with the international inbound travel trade.

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