By Penny Pritzker
Over the last 5 years, the United States has seen an increase of 15 million annual international travelers and this growth has SUPPORTED roughly 175,000 American jobs. We are on target to attract a record 100 million international travelers a year by 2021, meeting an ambitious challenge to the nation laid out by President Obama two years ago this week.
This is good news. But every other international destination is competing fiercely with us for international visitor dollars and the jobs they support. Overseas travelers spend an average of $4,500 per visit here, or more than $180 billion a year --supporting 1.3 million U.S. jobs.
First impressions really matter. When travelers arrive at our international ports of entry, whether by land, air, or sea, it is important that they have a positive experience. The safety and security of this country will always come first, but we can and must also ensure that the travel experience continues to be welcoming, friendly, and efficient.
That is why today the President is announcing a major initiative to improve service levels for international arrivals at our major airports, including reducing wait times at border security checkpoints.
As part of this initiative, he has directed our two departments to lead an effort to develop a national goal for improving the experience of international arrivals--in collaboration with the private sector--as well as airport-specific action plans that include concrete actions, well-defined metrics, and meaningful commitments from our industry partners.
The President has set an aggressive 120-day deadline to develop this plan, and we are confident we can deliver it. Not only does this effort enjoy the enthusiastic support of the travel and tourism industry, but over the past decade the Department of Homeland Security has established innovative private-public partnerships with key industries to improve customer service at the ports of entry. And we are seeing results.
At the Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago O'Hare airports, for example, less than 14 percent of arriving travelers wait more than 30 minutes to get through immigration and customs processing --down from nearly 30 percent just one year ago. That wait-time reduction is due to a combination of public-private collaborations and the deployment of innovative technologies like Automated Passport Control, and expanded enrollment in the federal government's Global Entry program, which enables faster processing for pre-cleared travelers.
These successes illustrate a fundamental principle that guides our efforts at Commerce and DHS: security and trade are mutually reinforcing. The more we facilitate the flow of lawful goods and people across the border, the more time and resources we can devote to identifying threats, which is both good for security and for our economy. Private sector and nonfederal support will be critical to achieving the President's objectives. In addition to the U.S. government, airports, airlines, and local governments all figure prominently into the arrivals experience -- and all have an essential role to play in creating a positive first impress.
The initiative the President has asked us to lead will work closely with them to identify actions and commitments to improve the international entry experience to the United States and ensure we remain the leading global destination. We value their partnership and participation.
If we all work together we can deliver a first impression that sincerely communicates "Welcome to America" at every stage of the arrivals process. That is a message that will attract more visitors from abroad--and generate more jobs and prosperity here at home.