Last week, the White House issued an executive order to “enhance and expedite” the visa process and promote foreign travel to the U.S.—a new strategy that has been widely hailed and celebrated across the industry, and for good reason. As a result, the number of travelers coming in from emerging markets China, Brazil and India is projected to grow by 135, 275 and 50 percent, respectively, between 2010 and 2016.
“This is the first time our country has had a national strategy and set goals for the amount of visitors we want to welcome to our country,” says U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow, adding that “nearly half of the travelers will come to attend conferences and trade shows.”
According to President Obama’s speech, the U.S. market share of spending by international travelers fell from 17 to 11 percent between 2000 and 2010, a more than 30 percent decrease attributed to international competition, global development and more stringent security requirements post-9/11. The new strategy aims to increase non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 49 percent in 2012 and to ensure that 80 percent of applicants are interviewed within three weeks of the application’s receipt.
“We can now invite foreign visitors to our shows with the expectation that they’ll actually be able to come,” says Lew Shomer, executive director of the Society of Independent Show Organizers. “The restrictive policies have been horrendous, making it almost impossible to get a visa in time. People learn about our exhibitions within 90 days, and there’s no way they can come over. It can take between 90 to a 120 days to get a visa.”
$2.4 Billion in Unrealized Revenue
In 2010, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research found that visa barriers prevented $2.4 billion in trade show-related sales and 116,000 international visitors from participating in U.S. shows. Meanwhile, according to UFI, European and North American exhibition venue market share decreased by two percent between 2006 and 2011, while the Asia/Pacific global market share increased by four percent. China specifically saw a 48 percent increase in the amount of indoor exhibition space during that time period, compared to seven and five percent increases in Europe and North America, respectively.
The Greater New York Dental meeting—an International Buyer Program member show that most recently drew more than 53,000 attendees from 127 countries—expects this new strategy to have a highly positive impact on the show, as well as the industry and the U.S. economy in general. According to executive director Dr. Robert R. Edwab, upwards of 20 percent of visa applicants who wanted to attend the show were often rejected within the last 10 years, a trend which made many potential attendees hesitant to apply at all.
Deborah Sexton, president and CEO of PCMA, says, “I am delighted to see that the White House recognizes and agrees with our industry’s rallying cry, ‘Meetings Mean Business.’ The economic importance of the meetings and travel industry will now drive critical changes, which ultimately mean more visitors, jobs and dollars to the United States.”