East Hawaii News

Bipartisan Bill Aims to Improve Tourism

October 1, 2015, 1:05 PM HST
* Updated October 1, 1:07 PM
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Recent legislation introduced by a bipartisan group of United States Senators aims to streamline and improve the visa application systems for foreign tourists who wish to spend longer periods of time in the country.

The Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel Act, also known as JOLT, was introduced by Democratic U.S. Senators Brian Schatz, Amy Klobuchar, and Charles Schumer, as well as Republican U.S. Senators Dean Heller and Mike Lee.

Under the bipartisan bill, the Visa Waiver Program would be altered to shorten the waiting time for certain tourist visas and allow tourists to stay in the U.S. for a longer period of time.

“Every new visitor to Hawai‘i gives us an opportunity to share our culture, strengthen our economy, and support our small businesses,” said Senator Schatz, Co-Chair of the Senate Tourism Caucus. “In Congress, tourism is an area that has strong bipartisan support so we should work together to do everything we can to attract new visitors and grow the industry.  By modernizing and streamlining our visa system, we can expand Hawai‘i’s international tourism market, improve the visitor experience, and bring a jolt to our local economy.”

During last year’s Congress, Senator Schatz, then the Chairman of the Tourism Subcommitee, held hearings on the state of the U.S. tourism and travel industry to explore ways to improve the visa system and help the government achieve its goal of attracting 100 million visitors annually by 2021.

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According to the Office of Senator Schatz, Roger Dow, President and Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Travel Association, which represents all sectors of America’s travel community, testified that the JOLT Act would help ensure that the U.S. is able to meet the rising demand for visas.

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The legislation places emphasis on reforming and strengthening the Visa Waiver Program, streamlining visa processing by requiring new standards of efficiency, encouraging Canadian tourism to the U.S., creating a videoconferencing pilot program for visa processing, coordinating Trusted Traveler applications and improving passport security by requiring that every U.S. visitor entering through the reformed VWP would have an electronic passport.

Globally, the travel market is expected to double over the next decade. In the United States, however, the market share of the travel industry has declined by five percent since 2000.

According to the Senators who introduced the legislation, the JOLT Act aims to reverse the trend and recapture the United States’ historic share of worldwide travel, potentially adding $100 billion to the economy over the next decade and creating 700,000 more American jobs.

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