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NTA Remains Vigilant, Optimistic on Travel Legislation

June 7, 2013

The JOLT Act looks increasingly like a bill that will do what it’s meant to do—increase travel into the United States—and the National Tour Association continues to push for passage.

“It’s on the front burner, and whatever bill ultimately comes out of the House and Senate, we’re optimistic that it will elevate international visitation into the U.S.,” Steve Richer, NTA’s public affairs advocate, said from his Washington, D.C., office.

JOLT stands for Jobs Originated through Launching Tourism, and while the act is making its way through the U.S. Senate as part of an 844-page immigration bill, it is a separate bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. What Richer and other NTA members find appealing about JOLT is its ability to increase overseas visitors by reducing visa wait times, allowing visa interviews via videoconferencing, and expanding the Visa Waiver Program. The bill also provides for the possibility of visa-free entry into the United States for Hong Kong residents.

“An amendment by Senator Hirono would treat Hong Kong as a separate jurisdiction from China,” Richer said. “When it’s easier to get a visa, it’s easier for people to travel to the U.S.”

Another issue that NTA is watching is sequestration, across-the-board budget cuts to federal programs.  Since the cuts became effective in March, NTA has monitored the impact on visa processing, air traffic control and the nation’s parks.

“The national parks are all open for business this summer. However, the sequestration effects are real, and visitors can expect to see the impacts during their visit,” said Mike Litterst, acting spokesman for the U.S.National Park Service. “Due to the sequester-mandated cuts, 900 permanent National Park Service jobs are being left vacant, and the agency will hire approximately 1,000 fewer seasonal employees this summer.”

Some tour operators, such as Michele Michalewicz of Western Leisure Tours, are reporting no ill effects of sequestration on national park visitation. “Our customers are still able to get into the parks and enjoy the splendor and majestic scenery,” she said. “I’m sure there have been cuts to each park, but they are not noticeable to our customers, so they continue to get wowed every time they enter a new park.”
“Parks are handling the effects of sequestration in different ways,” Litterst said. “While no national parks will be closed this summer, … a number of national parks will close for one or more days a week, and some will close select facilities, including campgrounds, picnic areas, and visitor centers.”

NTA is also focused on the funding for Brand USA because of that agency’s continuing efforts to market the United States to international travelers. NTA advocates reauthorization of the Corporation for Travel Promotion, the funding vehicle for Brand USA.

“And we’re constantly looking for ways that NTA and others can work with Brand USA to open new markets and expand existing ones,” Richer said. He points to China as a market where an NTA/Brand USA partnership has produced exemplary results.

NTA joined with other industry leaders in April to gain legislative support for these and other travel-sensitive issues during Destination: Capitol Hill, a collaborative advocacy event in Washington, D.C.

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