By: Edwin Fuller
Founder and President of Laguna Strategic Advisors
As many long-time readers of my blog know, my colleagues at the Orange County Visitors Association and I have worked diligently for the past few years to entice visitors to our many local, world-class attractions, both from our sister US states and from abroad. Our efforts are paying off. In the past year alone, we welcomed a record 46 million visitors to Orange County – 4 million, or almost 10%, of them came from abroad. With John Wayne International Airport being the closest international airport to the nearby Disneyland Resort and other famous California attractions, our community is positioned to reap the benefits of this increase in visitors.
While we’re encouraged by the positive response our efforts are enjoying, we recognize that lots more can be done to boost our current momentum, especially among international travelers.
So, earlier this year, I, along with other travel and tourism leaders from across our destination, met with US Congresswoman Mimi Walters, a strong champion of the US tourism community. On the table for discussion were two proposals that we are confident will go a long way to providing the additional impetus to our continued success, if they were adopted by the US government.
The first proposal concerns enhancing our current Visa Waiver Program by reforming the visa processing system and admitting additional, select countries, such as Poland and Israel, into the program. Both actions would significantly boost international travel to Orange County (and other US destinations).
Why focus on international visitors? Simple. These travelers produce enormous economic gains. Recent surveys reveal that the average overseas traveler to the US stays 17 nights and spends over $4,300 per person while in this country. With this in mind, leaders in the US House and Senate have introduced the JOLT Act. If enacted, this legislation would embrace visa reforms, strengthen our national security and provide a pathway for visitors from select countries to travel here for leisure activities, without a visa, for up to 90 days.
The legislation would also strengthen the current Visa Waiver Program by protecting our homeland and public through individualized pre-screening of travelers, and would encourage greater information sharing and enhanced international partnerships among law enforcement and intelligence services.
It would also result in more secure passports among the participating countries. These enhanced security requirements would keep us safe while allowing for a streamlined and efficient visa processing system that doesn’t put up barriers against the international traveler.