Will New Visa Waiver Program Provisions Impact Travel to USA in 2016?
It remains to be seen whether or not amendments to the USA’s Visa Waiver Program that were attached to the Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama last Friday will be an impediment to inbound travel to the United States, but the provisions were restrictive enough to rile the European Union, whose representatives issued a sharply worded statement/letter criticizing the provisions.
David O’Sullivan, the EU’s ambassador to the U.S., told USA TODAY, “We do worry that the unintended consequence of this legislation is not really to enhance the security guarantees, but to create additional obstacles for ordinary travelers.”
The legislative provisions fall far short of what some Members of Congress called for—temporarily suspending the program, which allows visa-free travel to the USA for up to 90 days from citizens of 38 nations, or restricting entry from some VWP countries—but they do target travelers from certain Middle East countries who want to travel to the United States. Specifically:
- The legislation requires consulate interviews overseas for any citizen of a country where visas aren’t required if the person has traveled since March 2011 to “high risk” countries including Syria, Iraq, Iran or Sudan.
- Interviews would also be required for people with dual-citizenship with one of those countries.
- By April 1, 2016, VWP countries are to use passports with electronic chips to confirm the traveler’s identity. Many nations already do this.
- And in order to avoid being suspended from the program, VWP nations are required to report lost or stolen passports to Interpol within 24 hours, and to screen all travelers against Interpol databases, to avoid being suspended from VWP.
For the past several sessions of Congress, there have been bills introduced that would impose restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program, but they never made it out of committee. Interest was re-kindled, however, following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris attacks and the Dec. 2 shootings in San Bernardino, California.
NTTO Figures Show Unusual Spike in Arrivals for May 2015
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) last week released its preliminary estimate of international and overseas arrivals for the month of May 2015, which show unusually high year-over-year increases in arrivals from some key overseas source markets that seem to challenge what most observers in the inbound tourism industry had expected. The figures are preliminary, of course, and they come midst a period in which NTTO is revising its procedures. Preliminary figures for June 2015 are due out next month. In previous years, these data were available about 80 days following the month in question, but the numbers have been well behind that target for the past year because of problems at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the processing of the raw data, which are collected via the I-94 forms that travelers to the U.S. fill out.
Arrivals from Top 15 Overseas Markets, plus Canada and Mexico May 2015 and Year-to-Date (January thru May 2015)
|Country/||Year-to-Date||% change vs. same||Month May 2015||% Change vs.|
|Market||through May 2015||period 2014||May-14|
|6. South Korea||668,066||21.70%||152,877||28.70%|
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, National Travel and Tourism Office from the Summary of International Travel to the U.S. (I-94)
Brand USA Tale of the Tape: Moving the Measure Upward
The board of directors of the Corporation for National Travel Promotion—better known by its DBA, Brand USA—were flush with good numbers at its most recent meeting this month. Without even a marketing plan for its first year of operation, the private-public sector agency has moved into its second five years of operation with measurable data—data that charts the progress that it has made, as well as the specific objectives.
Website Traffic Goal: 1 million/week by end of 2016: The numbers below have mostly to do with discoveramerica.com; however, next year Brand USA hopes to effect a migration to VisitUSA.com—a move made for many reasons, not the least of which is that product brands in other Americas (Central America, South America, North America) do not give BUSA an exclusive handle on the name. Prior to the Travel Promotion Act that was signed into law in 2010, “Visit USA” had been an unofficial, but de facto, brand for the Visit USA product. Extensive study by Brand USA confirmed the fact and, buttressed by other factors, the agency made the move. Its target is to get website traffic and social media engagements close to the million-a-week mark by the end of 2016.
Brand USA Website and Social Engagement Totals
|Year||Level of Engagement||Year-on-Year Change|
|2013||9.9 million||- -|
|2016 Target||44.2 million||8%|
|Source: Brand USA|
“Intent to Visit” Number Moves upward: Brand USA expects that the overall sample of travelers will contain more people who register their intent to travel to USA during the course of 2016.
Intent to Visit USA among Travelers Surveyed
|Year||Intent to Travel (%)||Year-on-Year Change|
|2016 Target||67%||+13% (from 2014)|
|Source: Brand USA|
Increasing the “Money Number”: There were 1.1 billion international travelers in 2014, according to the World Tourism Organization and roughly three quarters of that was short-haul, regional travel internationally. Long-haul travelers comprise the rest—a very substantial number that should soon close in on the 300 million mark. The USA lost market share of the world’s long haul market in the 1990s and through the first decade of the 21st century and each uptick of a tenth of a percent becomes, then, a significant number. It is difficult to determine if the uptick is entirely a result of Brand USA efforts, but no one taking part in the Brand USA board meeting doubted that the number would decline without its efforts.
USA Long-Haul Market Share
|Year||Share (%)||Year-on-Year Change|
|2016 Target||13.70%||+3.0% (from 2014)|
|* 2015 results expected mid-2016|
|Source: Brand USA|
Cash Contributions Close to Equal with In-Kind: Although the language of the Travel Protection Act gives Brand USA the ability to get up to 80 percent of the $100 million it raises (to qualify for a 1:1 ratio in funds collected from Visa Waiver Program nations in the form of a levy on ESTA applications), Brand USA is striving to make the percentage equal to the in-kind contributions it seeks. More cash, understandably, gives the agency more flexibility in developing program content and collateral, rather than asking industry partners to produce and pay for the same.
Cash vs. In-Kind Contributions
|Source: Brand USA|
Disney Moves into China Online Marketplace in Big Way, Partnering with Alibaba
In a move that will ensure the presence and cross-promotion of its brands across different marketplaces, The Walt Disney Company, along with the Alibaba Group, last week announced a multi-year license agreement for a service that for the first time connects customers, physical products and digital entertainment. The new venture, DisneyLife, provides Alibaba customers in China with, a statement said, “an all-encompassing and immersive family friendly digital experience.” Alibaba is the largest online company in the world.
For a one-year subscription that costs $125, DisneyLife will make available its vast collection of Disney and Pixar’s movies, animation series, games, e-books, songs, travel services and Disney theme parks and resorts information.
Luke Kang, managing director, The Walt Disney Company, Greater China, said that “Disney and Alibaba share an ambition to exceed our audience’s expectations. DisneyLife directly connects us to China’s digital population and provides millions of kids and families the ability to explore and engage with Disney.”
More, Re: China Online: The country’s online tourism revenue will triple from the current level to account for 30 percent of the country’s total tourism market in three to five years on rising demand for tourism. At the recent World Internet Conference held in Wuzhen, Donald Yu, chief executive of online tourism website Tuniu, said in an interview that China’s online tourism market revenue is forecast to reach 1 trillion yuan ($154 billion) in three to five years, accounting for 30 percent of the total tourism market, triple the current 10 percent.
NEW AND INTERESTING PRODUCT
Family Travel Forum to Follow Model of Romance Travel Forum: Highlighting a segment of the U.S. travel market that continues to grow, the people who operate the Specialty Travel Forums portfolio have announced the Family Travel Forum. The inaugural program will be held Nov. 2-4 at the Royalton Rivera in Cancun, Mexico. Like its sister event, the Romance Travel Forum, explained Jennifer Fernandez, vice president, events and content for Specialty Travel Forums, it will aim to “bring supplier partners face-to-face with vetted travel sellers who have a strong performance record, and dedication to their business.”
The event will bring in 130 hand-selected travel agents, she added, who will take part in a stringent qualification process. The group plans to welcome as many as 70 supplier companies “who focus on family travel, including multi-generation, family reunions and other group travel opportunities.”
The Family Travel Forum’s model, the Romance Travel Forum, is one that seemingly targets those consumers who have marriage—as well as romance—in mind. The next Romance Travel Forum takes place May 9-13, 2016 at the Moon Palace Jamaica Grande in Jamaica. For more information, visit: www.familytravelsmg.com, www.romancetravelforum, or call 718.979.1952.
New Señor Frog’s New York Features New Packages with Partners: Señor Frog’s, the combination restaurant and entertainment venue that features a mixture of Mexican food during the day and early evening, shifting to a dance club atmosphere for nighttime hours, recently opened a New York City venue on 42nd Street near Times Square. What differentiates this location from others—it operates a dozen locations, mostly in Mexico and the Caribbean—is the way in which the attraction/restaurant has been able to partner with other industry attractions in developing packages designed for motorcoach traffic.
Jodi Bergin, director of sales for the Manhattan location, told us that Señor Frog’s has a combos package with The Ride/The Tour in New York City; Ripley’s in New York City, and partnerships with Blue Man Group and Gazillion Bubble Show. For more information, visit http://senorfrogs.com/newyork/, or call 212.221.3833.
Philadelphia’s Observation Deck is Open: Just opened last month is the new One Liberty Observation Deck on the 57th floor (883 feet above street level) of One Liberty Place in Center City Philadelphia, just a block-and-a-half from City Hall. Reaction to the new attraction with its expansive view of the city has been largely positive. Here’s an excerpt from one Yelp review: “Great 360 degree views of Philly 57 stories up. Touch screens let you know what you’re looking at in case you get confused and they have lots of extremely friendly staff members around to help you out.” For more information, visit: www.phillyfromthetop.com, or call 215.561.3325.
—The Native Explorer Tour with Legacy departs from the Grand Canyon West air terminal. Once airborne, guests experience views above Eagle Point, home of the famous Skywalk glass bridge, Guano Point and other areas of interest within Grand Canyon West. In-flight narration in 16 languages provide interesting facts and the history of the Hualapai tribe and their land. After returning to the terminal, the West Rim tour continues aboard an air-conditioned motor coach for a self-guided ground tour of Grand Canyon West that includes a cowboy show at Hualapai Ranch, and a stop at Eagle Point, with its enormous eagle-like rock formation.
—There is also the Bar 10 Ranch experience at the Grand Canyon’s northern rim. Known as the Grand Canyon North Air/Ground Tour, guests are picked up in Las Vegas. They then board an airplane, from which they enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and the Colorado River—the heart of the Grand Canyon. The airplane lands at the landing strip of Bar 10 Ranch where guests experience a guided ground tour on a Polaris Ranger.
—Self-guided ATV upgrades are also available for an additional cost. The tour is available in the spring through November. For more information, visit www.Papillon.com.
Collection of Food Stations and Specialty Vendors Highlight new Bston Attraction : Some 40 vendors are part of the new Boston Public Market—a permanent, year-round indoor market featuring fresh local food at 100 Hanover Street. Open Wednesday through Sunday 8:00 am–8:00 pm, it is located just north of Faneuil Hall Market Place, above the Haymarket subway station and a short walking distance from the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Boston Public Market offers everything from coffee and doughnuts to artisan cheeses, specialty cuts of meat and smoked fish. It’s proved to be popular with locals and visitors—both individual travelers and groups. The market’s website has instructions on how to reach the attraction by walking, biking, taking the MBTA or by vehicle. For more information, visit www.bostonpublicmarket.org, or call 617.973.4909.
NAJ to Stage First Digital Day at Its RTO Summit West
At the Inbound Symposium Feb. 17 the first of two days of the RTO Summit West at the Ritz Carlton Marina del Rey, Calif., the NAJ Group, publishers of the Inbound Report, will host a “Digital Day”—a full-day digital marketing immersion targeted to traditional international sales professionals. Program segments include topics that range from “How to Use Google Predictive Analytics to Forecast International Intent to Travel to Specific Destinations from a Variety of Source Countries” to “Apps That Tour Operators Would Love…if Only They Knew about Them.” Participation in the day-long Inbound Symposium is included in the cost of registration for the RTO Summit. It is also available on an a la carte basis for tour and travel professionals who wish to attend. For more information on the program and the Summit, visit: http://www.rtosummit.com/rto-summit-west/rto-summit-west-agenda/
It Was a Year of Decline in Japan’s Visit USA Business and Outlook for Q1 2016 is Not Any Better
The outlook from Japan for Visit USA business has remained flat among the Japanese travel trade throughout 2015 and it looks that way for the first quarter of 2016. This is one of the key findings based on the results of the latest quarterly survey of the Japanese travel trade released late last week by the Japan Association of Travel Agents (JATA). Another finding is that the outlook for every key market segment—Honeymooners, Families, Female Office Workers, Students, Seniors, Incentive Travelers and Business/Technical Travelers—had declined since the first quarter of the year.
Specifically, using its Diffusion Index (DI)† measurement, JATA’s survey results indicates the outlook for the USA/Canada has not changed much from what it was in the first quarter of 2015. The survey results bode well, however, for Hawaii, which has the best rating of any destination listed in the survey report, although the state seems to benefit somewhat from schadenfreude—as interest in Europe dropped due to terrorist activity in the continent. Meanwhile, the overall outlook for overseas travel by Japanese is not much different than it was a year ago, in the first quarter of 2015, which registered a dramatic 41 percent decline in DI, and has remained there for the year, and is at essentially the same level for the first quarter of 2016.
Trends in Overseas Travel Demand (by Destinations)
|Destination||1 Year Ago||9 Months Ago||6 Months Ago||3 Months Ago||Current 3 mos.||Next 3 months|
|Oct.-Dec. 2014||Jan-Mar 15||Apr-Jun 15||Jul-Sep 15||Oct-Dec 15||Jan-Mar 16|
Trends in Overseas Travel Demand (by Market Segment)
|Destination||1 Year Ago||9 Months Ago||6 Months Ago||3 Months Ago||Current 3 months||Next 3 months|
|Oct.-Dec.||Ago||Ago||Ago||Oct-Dec 15||Jan-Mar 16|
|2014||Jan-Mar 15||Apr-Jun 15||Jul-Sep 15|
** Incentive: Travel offered as an incentive to business and organization employees
SOURCE: Japan Association of Travel Agents
†A Note on the Methodology and the DI (Diffusion Index): The JATA Survey of Travel Market Trends is designed to grasp trends in the travel market based on responses to questions on current conditions and those anticipated over the next three months. The survey asks participating companies to rate their sales results for each destination and customer segment by choosing from three categories: “good,” “average,” and “poor.” For items outside their business scope, respondents select “do not handle.” Each share of “good,” “average,” and “poor” is then divided respectively by the denominator, which is equal to the total number of responses minus the”do not handle” (including “no reply”) responses. Finally, each share is processed into the Diffusion Index (DI) by subtracting the percentage of “poor” from the percentage of “good.” The highest possible index figure is +100, and the lowest is -100. Survey period—Nov. 6-25, 2015; Registered companies—594; Responding companies—299; Response rate—50.3 percent
HODGE PODGE: Shifts, Shakeups and Occasional Shaftings in the Tour and Travel Industry
After serving 11 years with the company, Aniseh Dalju, vice president, business development and contracting at Destination America in Anaheim, has told her friends and colleagues in the tour and travel industry that she is leaving her position to pursue a different opportunity, Before joining Destination America, Dalju had held several managerial positions in the industry. She began her tour and travel career early in 1995 as a supervising agent at Lufthansa airlines.
Christopher Presland, formerly with Vodafone, has been appointed head of CRM at TUI Germany where he now has the responsibility for improving the company’s customer satisfaction levels. He reports to Oliver Dörschuck.
Jane Kilburn, long-time director for international tourism development for the Port of Seattle, has retired. She had worked for the Port of Seattle for nearly 18 years. Previously, she had held several senior communications positions in Washington State, including 15-year tenure (1983-1998) as vice president, corporate communications, for Washington Natural Gas.
Sherwin Mercado has joined DETOURS Nevada as director of business development. Mercado will lead sales efforts locally in Las Vegas and with wholesale partners throughout the world. Previously, Sherwin managed sales efforts at Papillon Helicopters.
Monica Poling has joined TravelPulse Canada as editor, covering travel agents and related industry content as it relates to Canada. Poling is also a blogger for Travel Glitter and previously acted as online editor for TravelAge West from 2008 to April 2014. Before that, she was the editor for OnceWritten.com since 2003.