Tourism pulls in $46.5 billion in economic impact for New York City each year: no small amount, and these dollars don’t just stay in Manhattan. Travelers spent $6 billion in the outer boroughs in 2010.
In this vein efforts are being made to increase tourism dollars spent nationwide — with the hopes some will spill over to Queens — by reducing travel hassles.
Rep. Joe Crowley (D- Queens-Bronx) announced at the Queens Chamber of Commerce on April 10 his plan to introduce a resolution to expand the Visa Waiver Program.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has introduced a similar bill in the Senate for Polish travelers.
“The history and diversity of Queens has so much to offer to travelers, and increasing travel and tourism is one of the most effective tools we have in our pocket to spur job growth and foster economic activity on the local level,” said Crowley.
The Visa Waiver Program allows pleasure and business travelers from 36 countries to visit up to 90 days without a visa.
The three countries Crowley’s resolution calls for addition into the program are Argentina, Peru and Brazil.
In order for a country to gain entry into the program no more than 3 percent of its annual visa applicants could have been refused a visa.
The secretary of Homeland Security may also designate a country as a VWP participant country if U.S. citizens may also visit that country without a visa and the country has an electronic passport program that began before Oct. 26, 2006.
Homeland Security also has several security standards and data sharing requirements the countries must meet.
As of now Brazilians may wait at least 100 days for their travel visas, according to Patricia Rojas from the U.S. Travel Association.
Europe has waived travel visas for Brazilians for 10 years. Therefore 50 percent of Brazilian travelers go there, compared to 29 percent to the U.S.
“It’s simple: the easier it is for international tourists to visit the U.S., the more likely they will,” said Crowley.
Additionally Brazilians are partially attractive for this program because they spend about double the amount that Europeans do when visiting, said Rojas.
On average Brazilians spend $5,000 per person per trip, she said.
“We don’t want visitors to fly into Queens and then leave,” said Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.“We want them to spend their hard-earned tourist dollars right here.”
Crowley listed several of his favorite Argentinian steak houses, as well as other restaurants in the borough saying “the food alone [is a reason to visit Queens].”
Other draws include are The Museum of the Moving Image, New York Hall of Science, and Citi Field, he said.
Queens also is the home to JFK International Airport and LaGuardia Airport and 90 hotels, “it’s a friendly business destination,” said Seth Bornstein, executive director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation.
“A lot of what is going on here is business: face to face and businesses making deals,” said Rojas.