Foreign visitors to the United States would have their visas processed sooner if they committed to visiting a national heritage site, including communities along the 363-mile-long Erie Canal, according to a bill introduced in Congress by US. Rep. Kathy Hochul.
Heritage communities also would have a shot at some of the $28 million raised annually through visa fees. The towns and villages could use some of that money to upgrade infrastructure, including bridges and roads.
Merchants in the communities should see more customers, one of the goals of the National Treasure Promotion and Investment Act, which Hochul introduced in the House on Friday.
The legislation would prioritize tourist visa applications for visitors to National Parks and National Heritage Areas. Both Niagara Falls and the canal meet that standard.
"I think there's a lot of potential to promote this so people can see what a magnificent attraction the canal is," Hochul said Sunday while visiting Albion. "It's a way to get more tourists to the area and shopping on Main Street."
She also sees potential in using the legislation to lure more tourists along the Niagara Wine Trail, which includes 16 wineries in Niagara and Orleans counties.
"It sounds like a great idea," said Wendy Wilson, one of the leaders of the Leonard Oakes Estate Winery in Medina. She is also treasurer of the Niagara Wine Trail.
By Tom Rivers
"We're trying to promote the trail beyond Western New York," she said. "We should do whatever we can to get people here."
The U.S. has 58 National Parks and 49 National Heritage Areas. Hochul's bill says 62 million international travelers visited the United States last year, spending an average of $4,300 during each stay. However, wait times for travel visas can exceed 100 days and deter tourists from visiting the United States and supporting the economy of communities, the Hochul bill says.
The legislation would make competitive grants available for transportation infrastructure in communities with "national treasures" like Niagara Falls and the Erie Canalway, Hochul said.