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National Restaurant Association - NRA’s Gibbons: Tourism improvements help industry

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NRA’s Gibbons: Tourism improvements help industry

Improved turnaround time on visa applications, better communication and the implementation of better technology are driving U.S. tourism, which, ultimately, helps the restaurant industry, National Restaurant Association board member Michael Gibbons says.

Gibbons, a former NRA chairman who earlier this year was appointed by President Obama to serve on a recently-created U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board committee, said changes already put in place are impacting international tourism to the United States, and that is changing the attitudes of people who are deciding whether or not to travel here.

"The biggest thing I can tell you is that we've really expedited turnaround time on [issuing visas]," he said. "We've got it down to about two weeks now where it was taking between six and eight weeks before. We're starting to see real improvement."

Gibbons, president and CEO of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Mainstreet Ventures Inc., also said the time it takes to get through U.S. Customs has improved significantly.

"We've really made great strides in the customs area," he noted. "[Agents] are really measuring times and putting forth a serious and sustainable effort. I think there's a real commitment to it, and that bodes well for us in terms of how people view our country. We're letting them know we want them here and that we're [making the process of visiting] less intimidating."

Perhaps the biggest improvements made, however, are in the communication and technology areas, Gibbons mused.

"The departments of Homeland Security, State and Commerce," he said, "are all making a concerted effort to share information with each other," to decrease confusion and distribution of misinformation. "They're all talking to each other in order to make things more seamless."

He added that the travel industry is exploring the possibility of installing a new, satellite-based navigation system on planes to shorten their flight times. That, too, would help boost U.S. tourism, he said.

"This would shorten up the time on everything," he asserted. "For example, it would shave 11 minutes off of a flight from Florida to New York. Not only would it save time, but also fuel. It would be monumental for the airline industry."

Gibbons further stated that the navigation system could be in place by 2025, provided there is funding for the program.

All of these improvements, he said, would have a direct result on tourism and, consequently hospitality and restaurants.

"The biggest measure of success will be if hotel rooms are kept full," he said. "Everyone will benefit from that. I can say there is a direct correlation between full hotel rooms and the restaurant industry. If that business is up, the restaurant business will go up, too."

According to travel industry reports and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, international travelers to the United States currently spend an average of $4,000 per visit.

Pictured, top right: Michael Gibbons

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