ABC News’ Jake Tapper and Mary Bruce report:
ORLANDO, Fla. — Standing in front of Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World this afternoon, President Obama will call for a national strategy to make the United States the world’s No. 1 travel and tourism destination.
It may be a small world, but tourism is big bucks. International tourists spent an estimated $140 billion in the U.S. last year. (Full disclosure: Disney is the parent company of ABC News.)
Whether they come here to Disney World to meet Mickey and Minnie Mouse — or elsewhere — tourists from emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil are their own mini stimulus packages — dropping up to $6,000 per tourist.
But for the past decade they’ve been increasingly spending that money elsewhere, as the U.S. share of global tourism plummeted from 17 percent to 11 percent. This is largely because of post-9/11 security procedures that have made getting a visa an arduous ordeal. One Brazilian tourist we met at Disney World told us it took her three months to get an appointment to apply for her tourist visa.
The U.S. Travel Association estimates that these delays have cost the U.S. economy $606 billion and 467,000 jobs over the past decade. “Every 35 visitors to the U.S. creates one job,” Geoff Freeman, chief operating officer at the U.S. Travel Association told ABC News. “We were losing between 4,000 and 5,000 jobs a year because of our inability to keep pace with global travel trends.”
So today, here at the Magic Kingdom, President Obama will announce plans to turn that around by such measures as simplifying the process for obtaining tourism visas, and adding an estimated 100 more consuls in countries such as China and Brazil.
The president is taking such actions through executive order, as part of his “We Can’t Wait” initiatives, which he says are necessary in the face of congressional gridlock.
Nonetheless, administration officials say the moves could have a significant stimulative impact.
In countries like Brazil when girls turn 15 they get to have a big party or go on a big trip. Executives at Disney World say that because of visa delays, the U.S .has missed out on thousands of these would be princesses. President Obama will announce that in addition to reducing the visa wait time by 40 percent, many of these girls will no longer have to have interviews to apply.
The White House hopes these new measures will help add 1.2 million new jobs and $859 billion to the U.S. economy between by 2020, which is what the travel industry said could be the impact of new tourism rules.