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July 18, 2008

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and fellow border governors from Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and various Mexican states have signed an agreement that urges the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to remove obstacles to Mexican travel into the United States, and provides recommendations that will improve security and ease of travel.

"Mexico is California's number one inbound market, generating approximately $1.58 billion in spending, so declines in that market would have a major impact on our economy, including loss of jobs," said Caroline Beteta, president & CEO of the California Travel & Tourism Commission and chair of the Travel Industry Association. "In my role as national chair for the Travel Industry Association, I'm also concerned about what impeding travel would mean to the U.S. travel industry and economy. Just a five percent decline in overnight visitation from Mexico would mean a loss of approximately 700,000 travelers and over $400 million in spending - with a disproportionate impact on America's border states."

Mexican travel to the U.S. generates 26 percent of all overnight visitors to the U.S., making it the second largest inbound travel market (only slightly behind Canada). Travel from Mexico has grown by 35 percent since 2000 -- the most of any inbound market. Furthermore, for the fourth consecutive year, Mexican visitors spent record levels on travel in the United States -- totaling $9.6 billion in 2007.

"The increase in business and leisure travel from Mexico partially compensates for a decline of 2 million overseas visitors to the U.S. between 2000 and 2007," Beteta said. "We must nurture and enhance this critical travel market through more efficient and secure travel systems and by combating a growing negative perception among Mexican travelers that the U.S. has removed its welcome mat. Also, our new requirements for U.S. citizens to provide passports in Mexico have added a burden on Mexican border states as well."

Some of the growing obstacles to Mexican travel to the U.S. in recent years include lengthy waits at land borders and airports. The border governors have made a series of recommendations that will protect America's security while strengthening the economy, such as creating efficient and secure points of entry. A white paper produced by the border governors recommended that, instead of investing solely on boosting staffing at borders, DHS should invest more resources on improving infrastructure for land ports of entry, airports and new technology that is needed to develop corridors of travel that meet current demands. DHS has yet to outline how it will use the $40 million Congress provided it to improve the entry process at the top 20 international inbound airports.

Other recommendations include urging the U.S. and Mexican governments to partner on leveraging technology and increasing participation levels of registered travel programs that expedite travel of Mexican nationals at land and airports. For example, although Mexican nationals are familiar with the SENTRI land program, the border governors suggested developing a Global Entry Program for those who travel by air. The border governors also support three main initiatives that will allow Consular Affairs in Mexico to meet the demands of its new workload: 1) build new consulate compounds to increase visa interview capacity; 2) hire significant new Foreign Service Officers and temporary visa adjudicators to meet the surge as soon as possible, and; 3) expand the pilot program in Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey that allows contract personnel to complete part of the BCC application process at an off-site facility.

In addition, the border governors and the Travel Industry Association advocate the passing of the Travel Promotion Act, a nationally-coordinated promotion program -- at no cost to taxpayers -- that is critical to changing perceptions and accurately communicating America's security policies and the U.S. invitation to all international visitors.

"Inbound international travel is a leading American 'export,' providing a $17.4 billion trade surplus in 2007," Beteta said. "Just as the federal government is deeply involved in promoting trade with our neighbor to the south, so too should it be involved in promoting travel to the United States."

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