Letters to the Editor

Tourism drives economic growth in Florida

Re the June 19 article, Investment spending, tourism lead recovery: A quarterly report from the Washington Economics Group showed tourism and recreation spending in Florida increased 6.4 percent from the same quarter last year. WEG principal and founder, Tony Villamil, said that the growth is “a sign of a sustainable economic recovery led by tourism and investment spending.” In Florida and other areas throughout the country, tourism has been a large driver on the road to economic recovery.

The money spent by foreign tourists fuels economic growth and supports hundreds of thousands of American jobs.

According to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “For every 65 international visitors, one American job is created.” In Florida, international tourism is vital to the state’s economy. The most recent data from the Department of Commerce ranks Florida as the second highest destination for international visitors to the United States.

I worked alongside Secretary Clinton’s team to promote international tourism when I served on the President's Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. We implemented a variety of policies that helped increase the number of international tourists to the U.S. from 55 million in 2009 to 70 million in 2013 — which gave the American economy a boost when it needed it the most, while never compromising our national security.

Secretary Clinton’s work on two important initiatives made a profound impact on Florida’s economy by increasing the number of Brazilian visitors to the state. Florida is the top U.S. destination for Brazilian tourists, who spend more than $5,000 per visit, higher than the average overseas tourist and nearly twice as much as visitors from France and the UK.

First, she reduced inefficiencies and optimized the process for Brazilians to obtain U.S. visas by creating new visa adjudicator positions and expanding processing facilities. This resulted in a 58 percent increase in visa processing capacity in just one year. According to Secretary Clinton, “in Sao Paulo in Brazil, it once took 140 days to get a visa; that time is now under 48 hours.”

Second, Clinton worked with the Brazilian government and American Airlines to increase the number of flights to the U.S., adding 10 additional flights a week between Miami and Brazil, including the first nonstop routes from Miami to Recife and Salvador. Her work paid off. In 2012, it was reported that “more flights” and “easing of the visa logjam” are listed as two of the four reasons Florida has become “a magnet for Brazilians.” In fact, the number of visitors from Brazil to South Florida has reached record levels over the past few years, making Brazil Miami-Dade’s top international market.

Earlier this year, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said, “Travel and tourism to and within the United States has been a significant contributor to our economic recovery.”

The increase in foreign travelers under Secretary Clinton’s watch spurred economic growth and created jobs at a time when America needed it most, particularly in Florida.

Douglas Smith, former assistant secretary for the private sector, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, East Rutherford, N.J.