Obama Comes To Aid Of Tourism

Readers of this weekly column are accustomed by now to the key themes and issues I’ve been raising about the future of our visitor industry. Thee particularly include the necessity of federal support for travel and tourism as national priorities, the importance of visa waivers as a means of stimulating more travel from friendly nations, and the contribution of the industry to job creation and the economy. These are matters with which I’ve been intimately involved since serving as the state’s economic development and tourism director in the early 1990s. The groundwork we completed when our federal government granted visa waivers to visitors from Japan and then in Congress’s passage of the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, has resulted in one of the most significant actions by the federal government in years.

Last month, President Obama signed an executive order charging the departments of Commerce and Interior with co-leading an interagency task force to make recommendations for a national travel and tourism strategy to promote travel and expand job creation, and to coordinate these administration efforts with those of the Corporation for Travel Promotion, the nonprofit organization established by the Travel Promotion Act to promote travel to our country, and the Tourism Policy Council to ensure private sector involvement. One focus of the task force will be promoting visits to national treasures, such as our national parks.

The departments of State and Homeland Security have been given targets of increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity for China and Brazil by 40 percent in 2012, ensuring that 80 percent of these visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application, and stepping up efforts to expand the visa waiver program. Chinese travelers, a growing market for Hawaii, have complained that visa requests can take months for approval.

The same agencies will establish a pilot program to simplify and speed up the non-immigrant visa process for certain applicants, including the ability to waive interviews for some very low-risk applicants, something I’ve been calling for.

The federal government also will expand and make the Global Entry program permanent. This program, created as a pilot in 2008 to facilitate expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Global Entry has been a public-private partnership that used kiosks in 20 airports to speed the admission of travelers, saving inspection time for customs and immigration officers. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also has requested Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano add Taiwan to the list of 36 countries now on the visa waiver program.

The significance of all this is that the federal government is acknowledging what we in Hawaii have long-appreciated: Travel and tourism can be a key source of revenue and jobs. While other nations recognize the importance of tourism and have devoted the resources to promote it as a national economic priority, the United States has lagged.

The U.S. tourism and travel industry represented 2.7 percent of GDP and 7.5 million jobs in 2010, with international travel to this country supporting 1.2 million jobs alone (and thousands in Hawaii). The industry projects that more than 1 million American jobs could be created over the next decade if the U.S. increased its share of the international travel market. According to the Department of Commerce, international travel resulted in $134 billion in U.S. exports in 2010 and is the nation’s largest service export industry, 24 percent of service exports.

These developments will mean great things for Hawaii as we seek to expand our appeal to new nations and new travelers. It will enable us to compete in a very tough global market, with the backing of our federal, state and county governments. And as I have long advocated , Hawaii can and should serve as an example for the rest of the country of how we can make this national goal a reality.

Masako McCarter

Position: Administrative Assistant to the Controller/Food and Beverage Director

Location: Royal Hawaiian Hotel

Administrative assistant Masako McCarter was named the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association’s outstanding lodging employee of the year at the 2012 Na Po’e Pa’ahana awards program, and it’s easy to see why she earned that top honor.

Masako provides accounting and administrative expertise to the Royal Hawaiian’s controller. While that would be plenty for most folks, Masako’s Japanese language ability has made her the hotel’s de facto wedding planner for Japanese guests. She graciously stepped in to help when the catering department was unable to accommodate some of the requests of its Japanese clientele. Masako helped develop a wedding website for information and online cost estimates, which has attracted many reservations from couples. She is the sole wedding coordinator and makes herself available to the staff, vendors and guests to make sure the event is successful, going so far as to emcee the ceremonies when requested.

She also spearheaded a sales program geared toward the Japanese market. It has been such a hit that parent Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts had adopted it as a model for its Asian properties.

The special attention she pays to wedding guests extends to others. Masako and other employees stayed by the bedside of a woman who had been seriously injured in a robbery, and she helped a couple who had their personal items stolen replace them a day before their departure.

Masako McCarter is a fixture at the Visitor Industry Charity Walk, participates in Aloha United Way and Kapiolani Community College Japanese Language Board, and helps her elderly neighbors with doctors’ appointments, shopping chores and more.