The CEO of Marriott International is calling on the U.S. federal government to cut down wait times for first-time visa applicants, which he said would help spur the country’s economy.
On stage during an annual meeting run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tony Capuano said the delays in processing first-time applicants and wait times for first-time interviews have been leading to loss in revenue due to reduced U.S. inbound travel.
Reducing visa wait times, especially for those countries that “have potential” would be the “most impactful” thing the administration that could boost the U.S. travel sector, he said.
“I had a chance to talk with the commerce secretary [Gina Raimondo], and we talked about the fact that in some countries the average wait times right now exceed 400 days. So, we are losing out on billions and billions of dollars of travel spend,” Capuano said.
Capuano also encouraged changes in federal policy, which would add federal workers on the road and back in offices, and a reform package for U.S. immigration policy to boost worker figures.
“I’m not under the illusion that it will happen overnight, but as an industry, we’ve got to continue to try and demonstrate both qualitatively and quantitively the extraordinary impact immigration reforms can have on the travel sector,” he said.
Last month, the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) created a website to bring to light the negative impact visa delays are having on the country’s businesses and travelers. According to the organization, the U.S. is estimated to lose $11.6 billion in travel spending in 2023. Spending losses from three top markets — Brazil, India and Mexico — could be more than $5 billion in 2023.
Wait times for visitor visa interviews now exceed 400 days for first-time applicants from top source markets — a deterrent that is undercutting the country’s global competitiveness, sending millions of prospective visitors and billions in traveler spending to other countries, the USTA has said.
The USTA welcomed 32 travel industry leaders who were appointed to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. The appointees will advise Raimondo on how government policies will impact the travel and tourism sector and offer counsel on present and emerging issues to support the industry’s growth.
Major policies, which according to the group need “significant focus,” include reducing the “excessive” visitor visa interview wait times, modernizing the air travel system and deploying infrastructure dollars to improve the travel ecosystem.
A few trends that proved to be an advantage is the rising popularity of blended travel, said Capuano. Bleisure travel demand grew significantly faster than transient business or group travel before the pandemic. This trend grew during post-COVID recovery.
“[There’s] this trend we’ve seen emerge over the pandemic of blended trip purpose … [where] more and more folks are combining leisure and business travel. If this has staying power, I think it’s absolutely a game changer, as we get back to normal business travel and hopefully maintain that leisure travel,” said Capuano.