U.S. Tourism Challenges Remain

Tourism to the United States is facing four key issues that need solving in order to realize more growth, said a tourism industry leader during the IPW 2023 conference in San Antonio this week.

Nearly 5,000 attendees from over 60 countries gathered in San Antonio, Texas on May 20-24 for the annual IPW – the travel industry’s premier international marketplace and the largest generator of inbound travel to the United States. Baxter Media correspondent Ted Davis was in attendance at the trade show and conference.

Geoff Freeman, president of the U.S. Travel Association, acknowledged this attendance, saying “the thousands of attendees we welcomed this week is indicative of the strong demand we are seeing for inbound travel to the U.S.”

But Freeman also noted that significant challenges remain to be solved in the U.S. travel industry – especially with regards to inbound arrivals to America from foreign points of origin.

“As a country, we need to stay competitive; to see around the corners and anticipate challenges that weren’t on our radar five or 10 years ago,” said Freeman during this year’s IPW, before continuing: “We need to be constantly evolving to meet new demands and to ensure our entry process is not only secure, but simple and welcoming.”

Freeman described the four roadblocks, with the first being the fact that visa processing times for travellers from markets that require a visa to enter the U.S. were much too long. These times average more than 500 days in the top 10 visa-requiring markets worldwide (excluding China, which has yet to fully resume outbound flights) for first-time applicants. Current average wait times are 527 days in Brazil, 406 days in India and 647 days in Mexico.

Another key problem is the entry delays at U.S. borders, said Freeman. He said, for example, that international visitors at top U.S. airports frequently experienced average wait times of more than an hour to be processed by border control officials and systems. He also said that an additional 1,700 border control staff were needed.

Freeman also focused on the often-stressful air travel experience, saying that a more seamless, secure, and efficient air transport system was needed; and he also said that the U.S. needed to step up its competitive game to face increasing competition for travellers in the global travel market.

A fifth factor – the presence of gun violence in the U.S. – was raised by one of the attending journalists, who asked if gun violence was also hindering travel to America.

Freeman responded that this is “a heartbreaking issue that many struggle with.” He noted that public safety and travel go hand-in-hand and that “we need to give people confidence that they can travel safely.”

This is the first time San Antonio has hosted IPW, and the first time a Texas city has hosted the event since 2000 in Dallas.

Next year’s IPW – the 55th edition – will take place May 3-7, 2024 in Los Angeles.