In a phone press conference Thursday, senior advisor to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, said that one part of a new strategy to increase travel and tourism to the United States will be the development of an interagency task force headed by the Commerce and Interior departments. Its goal is to increase visits to national parks and similar areas by tourists.
“It will promote visits to national treasures,” Jarrett said.
There was no mention of any particular parks, and follow up questions were cut off before the Source’s turn came up.
The Interior Department oversees national parks and monuments on St. John, St. Croix, and Hassel Island off St. Thomas.
In a press release that preceded the press conference, the White House indicated that in 2010, more than 400 million visits were made by American and international travelers to park and natural lands. The visits contributed nearly $50 billion in economic activity and 400,000 jobs.
The press release also indicated that eco-tourism and outdoor recreation also have an outsize impact on rural economies, particularly in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.
The press release didn’t mention the Virgin Islands, but Friends of V.I. National Park President Joe Kessler said that a 2004 study indicated the park’s presence on St. John infused $127 million a year into the territory’s economy. It also generates 2,500 direct and indirect jobs.
The U.S. tourism and travel industry is a substantial component of U.S. Gross Domestic Product and employment, representing 2.7 percent of the GDP and 7.5 million jobs in 2010. International travel to the United States supported 1.2 million jobs alone. The travel and tourism industry projects that more than 1 million American jobs could be created over the next decade if the United States increased its share of the international travel market.
“Every year, tens of millions of tourists from all over the world come and visit America. And the more folks who visit America, the more Americans we get back to work. We need to help businesses all across the country grow and create jobs, compete, and win. That’s how we’re going to rebuild an economy where hard work pays off, where responsibility is rewarded, and where anyone can make it if they try,” President Obama said in the press release.
Much of the press conference and questions asked by reporters focused on the government’s plan to stream the visa application process in an aim to increase tourism from places with “emerging economies.” In particular Brazil, China, and India are targeted. Citizens of those countries need visas to visit the United States, and the federal government aims to speed up the process.
Jarrett said the number of visitors to the United States is expected to grow by 135 percent from Brazil, 274 percent from China, and 50 percent from India by 2016 when compared to 2010. Nationals from these three countries contributed approximately $15 billion dollars and thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy in 2010. In addition, U.S. Commerce Department statistics indicate that Chinese tourists spend more than $6,000 per tourist on each trip to the U.S., and Brazilian tourists spend on average about $5,000 per trip.