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Mayor Mufi Hannemann today applauded the Bush administration’s decision to waive visa requirements for visitors to the U.S. from South Korea and six other friendly nations.


Mayor Hannemann had long pushed for such waivers as chairman of the US Conference of Mayors Standing Committee on Tourism, Arts, Parks, Entertainment and Sports. He co-authored a resolution calling for more waivers, which the conference approved this year, and met personally with presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama to urge that they support the timely expansion of the US Visa Waiver Program, especially for South Korea.


“I welcome South Korea and the others to join Japan, Australia, Spain and the 24 other friendly nations that already participate in the Visa Waiver Program, making it much easier for their citizens to visit us,” Mayor Hannemann said.


The Visa Waiver Program, established by Congress in 1986, permits business and leisure travelers from selected countries to visit the US for up to 90 days without the expense and delay of obtaining a nonimmigrant visitor visa. The program was intended to facilitate and promote overseas travel to the US while simultaneously allowing the State Department to shift visa screening resources to higher-risk countries. In 2006, approximately 14 million overseas visitors arriving in the US originated from one of the 27 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program, representing approximately two-thirds of all overseas visitors.


Of the 13.3 million Korean outbound travelers in 2007, only 806,175 visited the U.S.  With South Korea’s visa waiver, the US could expect at least 1.45 million visitors in the first year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.


Hawaii has much to gain with our gateway location and strong cultural ties to Korea, as he have similarly experienced with visitors from Japan,” said Mayor Hannemann.


Mayor Hannemann has especially worked hard to strengthen Honolulu’s ties with South Korea. He visited in 2006 and 2007 to bolster Honolulu’s sister-city relationships with the largest cities, Incheon and Seoul. He was a featured guest at a Business Roundtable meeting in Seoul with CEOs and presidents from 30 of Korea’s top companies, to promote Honolulu’s business and investment opportunities.


Mayor Hannemann also discussed the visa waiver issue with US Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow and directors general from Seoul’s Office of International Cooperation and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.


An Incheon government delegation plans to visit Honolulu before the end of this year to dedicate a gift sculpture, in appreciation for the sculpture of a Hawaiian monk seal presented earlier by Honolulu officials, which is displayed in the newly built Incheon Museum of Korean Emigration History.


In preparation for South Korea’s visa waiver, Mayor Hannemann is also working with Korean sister-city mayors and local community groups on promotions to attract more Koreans to visit Honolulu.


Mayor Mufi Hannemann and mayors from across the nation have joined visitor industry leaders to urge that the next American president make support for the industry a high priority.

“The nation’s arts and tourism activities are an important component of our national economy,” Mayor Hannemann said at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ National Action Forum on Air Travel, Tourism and the Arts earlier this month. “Protecting our nation must remain paramount, but a better balance is needed between homeland security and economic vitality.  Cities are undoubtedly affected by the challenges facing our airline industry. Therefore, it is essential that mayors are at the table offering their ideas and recommendations.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is urging Congress to approve the Travel Promotion Act, which they have long supported, a bipartisan measure designed to create jobs and help boost the U.S. economy by encouraging overseas travelers to visit. The Act, which Senator Daniel Inouye co-sponsored, would establish a Corporation for Travel Promotion as a nonprofit entity to promote the U.S. as a premier international travel destination; provide information to people interested in traveling here; and identify and address perceptions in other countries regarding U.S. entry policies.

The version of the Act approved by the House specifies that travel promotion would be financed through private sector contributions and a modest fee on foreign travelers, with no cost to U.S. taxpayers. Nearly every developed nation in the world spends millions of dollars each year to attract visitors.

U.S. Conference of Mayors President Manny Diaz, mayor of Miami, has asked Mayor Hannemann to lead the group’s effort to win Senate approval of the Travel Promotion Act. Mayor Hannemann has been working closely with Travel Business Roundtable President Jonathan Tisch, chairman of Loews Hotels, and other industry leaders who strongly support the measure.

As Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Standing Committee on Tourism, Arts, Parks, Entertainment and Sports, Mayor Hannemann led the effort to include tourism and the arts in the mayors’ 10 Point Action Plan outlining priorities for the next presidential administration.

At an Oct. 3 conference in Palm Beach, Mayor Hannemann and more than 40 mayors from key cities around the country gathered to discuss the U.S. economy and mounting challenges that are undermining economic growth.  Mayors heard from experts who explained that in 2007, the airline industry generated $172 billion in revenues -- an amount equal to 1 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.  However, increasing jet fuel prices and worsening flight delays have created a crisis with U.S. air travel in that 12 U.S. airlines have ceased operating since 2007, according to the Air Transport Association.

The ATA also predicts that by the end of 2008, dozens of U.S. airports will have lost all of at least one airline's scheduled service - impacting economic growth in the nation’s metropolitan areas.  In 2008, jet fuel prices reached all-time highs, causing the loss of more than 36,000 jobs and the retirement of approximately 750 aircraft.  Moreover, the decline in overseas travel since 2000 has cost America $150 billion in lost visitor spending and 250,000 American jobs - losses that affect every state and city in the country. 

According to the U.S. Travel Industry Association, 28 percent of travelers avoided at least one trip over the past year due to the problems inherent in today’s commercial aviation process. The same survey found that 78 percent of respondents believe the air travel system is either “broken” or in need of a “moderate correction.”

In response, mayors are urging that existing levels of service be preserved to support economic growth in metropolitan areas.  Mayors are also calling for reforms to the Transportation Security Administration to ensure that TSA uses the most up-to-date technology to provide security for air-travelers, as well as encouraging the airline industry and the federal government to accelerate research and development for alternative fuels.

As a long-term solution to air congestion, mayors are proposing the use of inter-city high speed commuter rail as an alternative to air flights of 500 miles or less. To accomplish this goal, mayors want to integrate air-rail regional planning in the federal transportation bills pending before Congress.

The Oct. 3 forum also featured a discussion on the nonprofit arts and culture industry, which generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year.  Mayors believe the national impact of this industry is significant because it supports 5.7 million jobs and generates $29.6 billion in government revenue. As a result, the nation’s mayors are calling for a cabinet-level position on culture and tourism.

Travel and tourism contributes $740 billion in direct expenditures to the national economy each year, and the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166 million in additional economic activity, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

But two million fewer overseas travelers visited the U.S. in 2007 than in 2000. The decline in overseas travel since 9/11 has cost America 46 million visitors, $140 billion in lost visitor spending and $23 billion in lost tax revenue.



Contact: Bill Brennan, 527-6928


Friday, October 17, 2008

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