by Matt Alderton | February 17, 2015
Recognizing the economic importance of the travel industry, which is America's largest services export, the U.S. Departments of Commerce (DOC) and Homeland Security (DHS) on Friday published a new report in which they set a "national goal" to improve the arrivals experience for international travelers to the United States.

The report, titled "Supporting Travel and Tourism to Grow Our Economy and Create More Jobs: A National Goal on the International Arrivals Process and Airport-Specific Action Plans," answers President Barack Obama's call for executive-branch actions expediting and improving the U.S. entry process, issued last spring. In it, DOC and DHS call for creating a "best-in-class international arrivals experience, as compared to our global competitors, to an ever-increasing number of international visitors."

To achieve this objective, DOC and DHS will establish a new interagency task force that will set quarterly benchmarks and engage with industry stakeholders in order to drive improvement.

Additionally, the Departments have developed action plans individualized to 17 of the nation's highest-traffic airports, which account for 73.7 percent of all international travelers to the United States. In support of those plans, they will pursue public-private partnerships generating $20 million to install 340 automated passport control kiosks at U.S. airports, where they'll reduce entry wait times by up to 30 percent.

Finally, the Departments announced new steps to modernize and improve the arrivals experience at U.S. airports: It will streamline baggage control egress, eliminate the paper 6059b Customs Declaration form, and implement new mobile passport control technology allowing eligible travelers to submit their passport and customs declaration form electronically through their smartphone or tablet prior to inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Already in place at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the latter program will be expanded to 20 additional airports by the end of 2016.

"The Obama Administration is focused on efforts to welcome more international visitors to the United States because we know that these travelers support American jobs," U.S Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said in a statement. "Our efforts are paying off, and we are welcoming more travelers to the United States on a yearly basis than ever before. To build on that success, we are taking action to make the travel experience safe, efficient, and welcoming so that visitors return to the U.S. often and encourage their friends and families to visit, as well. By delivering a best-in-class arrivals experience, we can help ensure that international visitors continue to select the United States as their destination of choice."

The travel industry on Friday applauded the Administration's actions.

"The Obama Administration has demonstrated time and again that it grasps the broader value of attracting international travelers to the U.S. During the average visit, these travelers expend huge amounts of foreign currency -- meaning their spending counts as an export; they consume virtually no public services while they are here; and they support hundreds of thousands of unexportable jobs. Attracting more international visitors to our shores is one of the best ways to spur exactly the kind of economic activity this Administration wants to prioritize," said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. "We congratulate President Obama and his team for finalizing action plans at 17 gateway airports, and for their unrelenting pursuit of improvements to this area that materially benefits U.S. economic productivity and job creation."