Officials hopeful about Obama's plan for visitors - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Officials hopeful about Obama's plan for visitors

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by Sabrina Salas Matanane

Guam - From Disney World in Orlando, Florida President Barack Obama announced a strategy that he believes will significantly help boost tourism and travel to the United States that in turn translates to big dollars and a boost to the nation's economy. And for Guam, Where America's Day Begins, industry professionals are hoping the president's plan could bring good news of the long awaited approval of the China visa waiver program.

Obama announced, "We want them coming here and we want them spending here." From the Magical Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Obama unveiled his plans to bring more international tourists to the country. In 2010 the United States welcomed nearly 60 million international visitors to America, in turn that helped build the U.S. economy by an estimated $134 million.

Here at home, tourism is one of the island's largest contributors to the island's economy. For the Micronesia Mall thousands of tourists visit the island's largest shopping center every month, Micronesia Mall Division Vice President and Operations Manager Victoriano Lo reports in November last year the mall saw over 50,000 tourists. And that figure has increased by the several hundred over the last few months. The mall is hoping with the recent approval of Russian tourists to travel to Guam without a visa and ongoing efforts to do the same with the Chinese market. It will mean big sales.

Lo said, "Everybody will enjoy it because it's a big country, both of them are big countries and they have money to spend."  And President Obama knows this all too well saying his goal is to ensure the United States is the top tourist destination in the world. He announced efforts to expand the Global Entry Program, which makes it easier for frequent visitors to the United States, who've undergone a background check to travel in and out of our borders, adding he's issued a directive to add additional nations to the list of those whose citizens are allowed to visit America without a tourist visa.

President Obama said, "So today I am directing the state department to accelerate our ability to process visas by 40 percent in China and Brazil this year. We are not talking about five or ten years from now we are talking about this year."

The directive is welcome news to the Guam Visitors Bureau, the Calvo Administration, and the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association who have been working to get Washington's approval for the china visa waiver. Its estimated there are 50 million outbound travelers from Mainland China every year and that is expected to double by 2020. According to GVB general manager Joanne Camacho if Guam were to get just one percent of that market share, that would add an additional $5 billion in economic support that will provide thousands of additional jobs for our local people.

GHRA member Bart Jackson spoke Thursday of the China and Russia visa waivers. He was part of the group of tourism officials that traveled with Governor Eddie Calvo to the nation's capitol in November last year to push for their approval. He's hoping with a new attitude in Washington we just might see some big things in 2012 and encouraged GHRA members to continue lobbying for the China visa waiver.

He said, "The potential for the china market is enormous, and so as a group we need to continue to push forward and give whatever support is needed so we can bring home the bacon. So we can get the China visa waivers approved. I'm very optimistic its going to happen this year."

And hopefully with President Obama's announcement from Disneyworld today it just might happen, eventually making the island one of the happiest places on earth.

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