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            Mayor Mufi Hannemann today stressed the need to balance national security concerns with the needs of foreign visitors and the US hospitality industry. He urged US Senator John McCain to support the timely expansion of the US Visa Waiver Program, especially for visitors from South Korea, which would greatly benefit US tourism.


            In a meeting in Chicago with several other big-city mayors, tourism industry executives, Senator McCain and Senator Joe Lieberman, Mayor Hannemann stressed that foreign travel to the US has declined 17 percent since the 9/11 attacks, while international travel in general has grown by 20 percent.


            “We have lost 250,000 jobs. A lot of that is due to we are now regarded as an unfriendly place to visit,” Mayor Hannemann said.


            Today’s Travel Business Roundtable meeting followed an address by McCain to the National Restaurant Association, which had also invited all other presidential candidates to speak.


            McCain stressed the importance of US trade with South Korea, and said relations between the two countries were of “profound strategic importance.”


Mayor Hannemann participated as chairman of the US Conference of Mayors Standing Committee on Tourism, Arts, Parks, Entertainment and Sports. In a private meeting with Senator McCain, Mayor Hannemann stressed the importance of the Visa Waiver Program, especially with reference to South Korea.


At the 76th Annual Conference of Mayors, to be held next month in Miami, Mayor Hannemann will introduce a resolution urging his mayoral colleagues to support the timely expansion of the Visa Waiver Program for visitors from South Korea.


“We should welcome South Korea to join the 27 other countries, such as Australia, Japan and Spain, that already participate in the Visa Waiver Program, making it much easier for their citizens to visit us,” Mayor Hannemann said. “But we must be mindful of legitimate security concerns, and must not jeopardize public safety.”


Last month, the US and South Korea signed a Visa Waiver Program Memorandum of Understanding that set guidelines for information sharing and outlined security enhancements required by each country.


Mayor Hannemann noted that Canada lifted its visa restriction for South Korea in 1994, and saw arrivals from South Korea jump by 79 percent over the next two years.


Of the 13.3 million South Korean outbound travelers in 2007, only 806,000 visited the US. Travelers were deterred in large part by the stringent and labor-intensive US visa process which requires a $120 visa application fee and an in-person interview at a single US Embassy location in Seoul.


If South Korea were included in the Visa Waiver Program, the US could see at least 1.45 million Korean visitors in the first year, boosting the US economy and helping to reverse the drastic decline in overseas travel to the US, according to the US Department of Commerce. Hawaii would undoubtedly benefit from such an increase in visitors, Mayor Hannemann said.


Mayor Hannemann said it will be very important that our next president and administration understand and appreciate the importance of travel and tourism to the economies of our cities and our nation.


The US Conference of Mayors has developed a 10-point plan to guide the new president and Congress in addressing issues that affect Americans. As a result of Mayor Hannemann’s efforts, the plan includes support for tourism and the arts, and calls for the creation of a Cabinet-level Secretary of Culture and Tourism charged with forming a national policy for arts, culture and tourism.


Also participating in today’s event were Mayor Manuel Diaz of Miami, incoming chair of the USCM; and Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago. The USCM is supporting Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics.


Participating business leaders included Michael Kaufman, Chairman of the National Restaurant Association and Co-president of Enovo Restaurant Ventures; Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Chairman of Carlson Companies; Richard Rivera, immediate past President of the National Restaurant Association and Principal of Rubicon Enterprises; Steven Rudnitsky, President and CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group; and Jonathan Tisch, Chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels and Chairman of Travel Business Roundtable.


Senators McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been invited to address the 76th Annual Conference of Mayors in Miami next month.


Mayor Hannemann will return to Honolulu tomorrow.


Contact: Bill Brennan, 527-6928

Monday, May 19, 2008

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