Reaffirming Support For Visa Waivers

Mufi Hannemann
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August 10, 2011 | Hawaiian Airlines Discount Share

A little more than 15 years ago, Hawaii was successful in attaining greater flexibility in our nation’s visa waiver program. Our objective at the time was to ease travel restrictions from friendly nations like Japan. It took patience and persistence, but this effort paid off handsomely as travel from Japan to Hawaii rose dramatically and has continued to this day. And as we’ve witnessed, Japanese travel also expanded to other parts of the United States.

More recently, primarily through my work with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the nation’s mayors pushed for the passage of the Tourism Promotion Act and affirmed support for the easing of visa restrictions to stimulate more travel from nations like Korea and China. While we’re seeing an uptick in travel among Koreans thanks to the visa waivers, prospective Chinese visitors still face challenges in obtaining the approvals they need to come to the U.S.

According to a recent poll taken by the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), Chinese travelers revealed that the major obstacles to securing visas included the length of time it takes to get an interview at a U.S. consulate, the cost of the visa and absence of a refund for a rejection, and the distance required to travel to a U.S. consulate.

According to the USTA, our nation has an inefficient and unpredictable visa application approval process, insufficient personnel to process and interview applicants, poor access to consulates, and poor planning and communication to applicants.

If we had kept pace with other nations in attracting foreign travel, the U.S. economy would have welcomed 78 million more travelers the past 10 years, and they would have generated $606 billion in revenue and created more than 467,000 jobs.

On the heels of the passage of the Tourism Promotion Act and formation of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Promotion Advisory Board, of which noted island restaurateur Roy Yamaguchi is a member, we are poised to promote America in international markets for the first time. That’s why the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association and our national partner, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, are enthusiastically supporting the nation’s entry into a marketplace that’s been long-dominated by foreign competitors.

Just as Hawaii’s tourism has benefited from the support of the state and counties, so too can we benefit from the efforts of the federal government, particularly in the area of foreign travel.

It would require that we continue to preserve and expand the visa waiver program, striking a reasonable balance between hospitality and security. We would give the State Department the resources it needs to streamline visa reviews and recapture the 17 percent overseas travel market share we once held, develop emerging travel markets like China, and take other measures to encourage more travel to our country. The USTA claims recapturing that 17 percent would mean 98 million more visitors, create 1.3 million more jobs by 2020, and inject nearly $860 billion into the U.S. economy all at very little cost to taxpayers. It would be wonderful if President Obama, in conjunction with November’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Honolulu, could announce a bold new travel initiative that will jumpstart these much-needed reforms.

Edward Kim Jr.

Position: Bartender
Location: Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa

Eddie Kim was among the first employees of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki when it opened its doors in 1976, was one of the early mixologists who brought flair and creativity to his work, and contributed to the hotel’s success through his work at Bagwells, Hana Hou, Spats and Colony.

He has been credited with helping create many new offerings for the Hyatt’s guests over the years. His updated version of a traditional island beverage earned plaudits at a recent international competition. But it’s his approach to work that wins him the most praise. Eddie’s personal ties with the guests keep them coming back for more. He treats guests like old friends, provides everyone with courtesy and aloha, and continues to sharpen his skills and professionalism.

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