Katie Whitchurch

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last month announced its participation in the Discover America Partnership, a broad coalition to advance visa and entry reforms for international travelers and enhance the United States’ position as an international travel destination. 

The U.S. Chamber is urging companies and chambers from across the nation to get engaged in the fight to make America a competitive global tourist attraction. The current process for a prospective international traveler to secure a visa to travel to the U.S. can consume over 100 days waiting for a preliminary answer, travel expenses within the country of origin to make appointments at consulates or the embassy, application fees, as well as time spent interviewing, filling out the visa application and interviewing some more. And if they are approved for a visa, tourists then spend time and money making their travel arrangements. This new travel coalition believes that it is time for this process to change. We couldn’t agree more.

Consider the economic impact of Chinese tourists.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, only 13 percent of “Chinese travelers on long-distance trips” chose to visit the United States in 2010. Compare that number with the 38 percent that chose to visit Europe and the fact that Chinese tourists spend “on average more than $6,000 apiece when they are in the U.S.,” which is more than twice the amount of a European traveler visiting the U.S.

For another perspective, the U.S. Travel Association has estimated that by returning to a year 2000 level of travel, the American economy could recapture $390 billion over the course of 10 years and create 1.3 million jobs, which could be a boon to tourist-friendly Arizona as we seek to chip away at our 9 percent unemployment rate.

The Arizona Chamber will be journeying to China in September for a special delegation to strengthen Arizona-Sino relations. In cooperation with the Arizona Technology Council, Snell & Wilmer and the Arizona Commerce Authority, this 10-day, five-city trip seeks to provide Arizona businesses with a glimpse into the Chinese marketplace. In addition to visiting Arizona and American businesses operating within Shanghai, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Macau and Hong Kong, we will provide important exposure to Chinese culture through museums, historical locations, and environmental concerns. With over 1 billion citizens, China is a marketplace that Arizona can’t ignore.

As our third largest trading partner, for the past five years China has accepted an average of 6 percent of all Arizona exports, and first quarter 2011 estimates from the Arizona Commerce Authority have China accepting just above 7 percent of Arizona exports. Our goal is to see this number increase. We believe that strengthening ties beyond our borders requires mutual investment and a deeper understanding of issues involved in operating, selling into or encouraging investment from China. We hope to provide those opportunities September 14 – 24, 2011.

That’s why the work of the Discover America Partnership is so important. Without a navigable visa process, not only does Arizona lose significant funds from tourism, but the Chinese business counterparts that our delegation will be visiting with face a difficult process for investing here. 

I encourage you to join this important travel coalition and get engaged. In addition, please consider joining the September delegation to China and help us in the important work of strengthening this international relationship.