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Visa delays hurt U.S. tourism marketing

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

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Long visa processing times are restricting destination marketers’ ability to attract new tourists from key international markets.

The average wait time for a U.S. embassy interview for a first-time visitor visa applicant in India, Brazil, China and other top countries for U.S. tourism exceeds over 400 days on average, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Wait times vary by embassy in each country.

To grow, we have to be able to attract new travelers who need visas, said NYC Tourism +Conventions President and CEO Fred Dixon.

In these countries with long visa backlogs, destinations focus on tourists who don’t have to wait.

In those countries where visa wait times are an issue, they are partnering directly with the travel trade to target people who already have a valid visa, said Adam Burke, president and CEO of LA Tourism.

In many of these countries, there are large segments of tourists with valid visas. There are about 5 million people in India with a valid 10-year visa, said LA’s Burke.

Visa issue times are probably the single biggest issue that has to be solved, said Burke.

These steps include: waiving interview requirements; interviewing applicants on weekends; filling processing staff to their pre-pandemic level.

LA’s Burke and New York’s Dixon noted there have been some improvements in wait times.

Burke said initiatives like waiving interview requirements for visas that expired in the past 36 months and adjudicating visa applications through consulates in other countries have been smart and helpful.

In Brazil, some embassy wait times have dropped substantially.

As of July 30, an aspiring tourist would have to wait over 100 days for an interview at the U.S. embassy in Rio De Janeiro, a big drop from over 400 in early January. But more work needs to be done, said Dixon.

In many embassies, tourists still have to wait over a year. At the Mumbai embassy, it’s a wait of 598 days, which is lower than 999 days in early January but still over a year.

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