Foreign tourists are a major source of fuel for the U.S. economy. International visitors are on track to spend more than $152 billion this year, overshadowing the record $141 billion spent in 2008, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Data from the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries show visitors spent $127 billion in the United States in the first 10 months of 2011, The Los Angeles Times reports.
A monthly report by the federal agency shows $13.1 billion was spent on travel to the United States and tourism-related activities just in October, reports the Times, which notes that this was a 13 percent increase from the same month last year.
Meanwhile, Americans spent $91.9 billion traveling abroad in the first 10 months, resulting in a balance-of-trade surplus of $35 billion, the Times reports.
While those numbers may sound good, not everyone is happy. Many argue that U.S. tourism income from foreigners could be better if it were easier for visitors to obtain visas.
Tourism leaders said the decline in foreign visitors during the past decade is costing American businesses and workers $859 billion in untapped revenue and at least a half million potential jobs at a time when the slowly recovering economy needs both, The Associated Press reports.
The decline in foreign tourists is blamed on changes to the visa system that were implemented after the terrorist attacks in 2001. One of the main differences: extremely long — and often discouraging — waiting periods.
Nearly 7.6 million nonimmigrant visas were issued in 2001, compared with fewer than 6.5 million in 2010, reported the Associated Press.
Every day a person is waiting for that interview is a day a person cannot be here supporting the American economy, the Associated Press quoted Geoff Freeman, CEO of the US Travel Association, as saying.
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