Easier visa entry, more foreign tourists: President Obama's gift this week to Florida?
More foreign tourists on the way? Two young Brazilian tourists play a little soccer during a rain delay last summer at Tampa's Busch Gardens. Brazil’s strong currency has the visitors spending large amounts at stores across Florida. (Photo: Willie J. Allen Jr., Tampa Bay Times.)
Wake up and good morning. There's growing buzz about President Obama's planned visit tomorrow (Thursday, Jan. 19) to Orlando and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom where he will supposedly unveil a new way to boost tourism.
What could that be? The betting leans heavily towards an easing of international visa requirements to make it easier for folks -- say from Brazil where the booming economy has a population eager to travel to Florida's theme parks and countless shopping malls -- to pop over to the Sunshine State with less red tape.
That can only help the Tampa Bay economy, including places like Busch Gardens, which tends to see bumps in tourists when Orlando is doing well.
"Florida would be probably the No. 1 biggest benefactor of any kinds of reforms or waiver that happen in Brazil," D.T. Minich, who heads Visit St Pete/Clearwater, told My Fox Tampa Bay. Added Busch Gardens President Jim Dean: "South America is a very important market for us. We have a dedicated sales and marketing team in Sao Paolo in Brazil." Busch Gardens teams with Hillsborough County's tourism group Tampa Bay and Co. to operate a Brazilian promotion office.
The tourism industry has been pushing Congress and Obama to make travel to the U.S. easier for visitors from emerging nations which also includes China and India. "We understand that he [Obama] is going to trumpet the value of travel generally and improve facilitation for international travel, especially from China and Brazil," Blain Rethmeier, senior vice president of public affairs at the U.S. Travel Association, told the Orlando Sentinel here.
The Sentinel story, citing an unnamed congressional aide, said Capitol Hill expects the White House to make permanent a program called Global Entry, which cuts down clearance times at U.S. customs checkpoints for "preapproved, low-risk travelers" arriving in this country.
There also is the expectation that Obama will tout new hires for consular offices in Brazil and China — a move announced last year by the State Department that could boost by 1 million the number of visas processed annually in each country, the story reports.
And, of course, several reports note the timing of Obama's trip to Florida and gift to the tourism industry as the 2012 presidential election gathers steam.
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times