27 October 2010

Conference discusses challenge of US Visa applications for tourists from non ESTA eligible countries

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One of the most daunting challenges facing attracting international tourist is strict US visa regulations, American tourism officials said during the US Travel Association’s annual conference in Las Vegas.

ESTA application

The challenge of obtaining a tourist visa for countries not part of the ESTA and Visa Waiver Program is affecting tourism, a Las Vegas conference has heard.

Officials with the US Travel Association and US Department of Commerce said that in growing markets such as Brazil and China, who are not able to make an ESTA application because the country is not part of the Visa Waiver Program, people wait an average of 90 days or more to have an interview conducted at the American consulate for a tourist visa.

There are only four consulates in Brazil and five in China – so trips to an American Embassy can cost a family of four up to $1,000 just to be considered for a US Visa, tourism officials said.

Rossi Ralenkotter, president and chief executive of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority, said:  “We need to make it very easy for business people to be able to do business in our country.”

“We need to think about that part of the equation when we talk about international travel. From our standpoint, it is a big growth market for Las Vegas over the next five to seven years, and we are going to aggressively go after it.”

Las Vegas tourism officials said that without a solution to long visa wait times in growing markets like Brazil, China and India, international travel to the US could decline.

Corporation of Travel Promotion has been tasked with proposing alternatives to the in-person interview process to obtain a US travel visa.

 The group, which is chaired by Las Vegas-based Diamond Resorts chief Stephen Cloobeck, was started after President Barack Obama signed US Senator Harry Reid’s Travel Promotion Act in March.

The organization is proposing three ways to increase inbound international travel: Visa waiver programs which use the simple and timely ESTA application, visa video-conference interviews and better resource dedication.

Currently, 36 countries are part of the Visa Waiver Program

The American Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people with their ESTA application to the US Embassy.

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