Los Angeles was one of the nation’s top tourist destinations before the pandemic hit, reporting a record 51 million domestic and international visitors, who spent $25 billion on hotel stays, meals, buses tourism and souvenirs.
With most pandemic travel restrictions lifted, the country’s tourism leaders say federal government delays in approving tourist visas are now robbing Los Angeles and other US tourist destinations of millions of visitors and billions of dollars. tourism spending.
“Scandalous wait times send a message to travelers that the United States is closed for business,” Geoff Freeman, chief executive of US Travel Assn., the national travel industry group, said Thursday.
The United States Travel Association. published a study on Thursday estimating that in 2023, the United States is expected to lose $11.6 billion in tourism spending, as 6.6 million international travelers will not be able to obtain visitor visas to travel to the United States in right time. Waiting times of 400 days and more to obtain a visitor visa interview have deterred potential tourists mainly from Brazil, India and Mexico, according to the study.
Instead of visiting the United States, most of these travelers would likely choose another vacation destination if visa wait times exceeded a year, the survey of nearly 2,500 potential tourists from Brazil found. from India and Mexico.
Adam Burke, chief executive of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, agreed that longer waits for visa interviews are keeping international tourists from visiting the area, but he praised federal officials for trying to address the issue.
“We know there is a huge pent-up demand for travel to the United States, which is hampered by these visa wait times,” Burke said in a statement.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau forecasts 5.3 million international visitors for the financial year ending June 30, 2023, a 58% increase on the previous year.
The US State Department, which oversees visa approvals for travelers from certain countries, has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and many embassies and consulates “continue to face staffing issues that have started during the pandemic,” a spokesperson for the agency. said in a statement.
The department has bolstered its staff, in part by hiring family members of diplomats, to reduce wait times for visa interviews, the agency said.
“Visa processing is rebounding faster than expected, following an almost complete shutdown and resource freeze during the pandemic,” the statement said.
International visitors spent $13.7 billion in the United States in August, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, up from $6.8 billion in 2021 but less than the $19.5 billion spent in 2019.
In Los Angeles, international visitors made up less than 10% of all tourists, but generated more than their share of spending, as they tend to stay longer and purchase more meals, drinks and souvenirs than locals. domestic visitors. Before the pandemic, the number of visitors from China was increasing dramatically, prompting several Los Angeles malls to hire Mandarin-speaking translators to greet tourists.
The U.S. Department of Commerce announced plans in June to launch a five-year plan to attract 90 million international visitors, who would spend about $279 billion a year by 2027.
Asked at a press conference about the long waits for visa interviews, Grant Harris, the assistant secretary of commerce for industry and analysis, blamed some of the delays on the pandemic and said said his department is working to reduce the wait for visas. time.
“It will be something we want to continue working on to facilitate travel to and within the United States,” he said.