Obama pitches tourism, campaign on East coast

By Julie Pace

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 19 2012 4:51 p.m. MST

The tourism initiative is part of an executive order Obama signed. Its goal is to boost nonimmigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent this year; expand a Visa Waiver Program that allows participating nationals to travel to the U.S. for stays of 90 days or less without a visa; appoint a new group of chief executives to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board; and direct an interagency task force to develop recommendations for a National Travel and Tourism Strategy, including promoting national parks and other sites.

The efforts to boost tourism were praised by travel and tourism groups, but one lawmaker said the decision to relax tourist visas could undermine national security. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the administration was "pushing the envelope and using their authority beyond congressional intent," noting that only two of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 terrorist attacks were interviewed by consular offices. He said Congress moved to require visa applicants to be interviewed as a result.

The White House says the travel and tourism industry represented 2.7 percent of gross domestic product and 7.5 million jobs in 2010. But the U.S. share of spending by international travelers fell from 17 percent to 11 percent between 2000 and 2010, due to increased competition and changes in global development, as well as security measures imposed after Sept. 11, 2001, according to the White House.

The approach was welcomed by Brazilian tourists Lilian Lara and Lindbergh Souza, who shopped along the resort's streets hours before the president's speech. Souza said the visa process was expensive, at $500, and time-consuming for Brazilians who don't live close to consuls in Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo. "The whole process took me six months," Souza said.

Associated Press writer Mike Schneider contributed to this report.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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