Business Groups Raise Red Flags on Customs Delays

More than 80 businesses and trade groups, including the U.S. Travel Association and ASAE, recently asked the Department of Homeland Security to introduce measures to ease travel delays on international visitors. The groups say the customs process is hurting tourism.

Can anything be done to ease the resource pressures on international travelers?

That’s the big question being asked this week by a number of industry groups and large businesses. The U.S. Travel Association, joined by more than 80 organizations—including Marriott, Hilton, the American Society of Association Executives, and a number of conventions and visitors bureaus—has asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to improve the customs process for travelers, saying that resource levels are so low at this time that they’re having a negative impact on tourism.

“In recent years international visitors and U.S. citizens returning to the U.S. have faced significant wait times at major air and sea ports of entry—surpassing four hours for primary processing at some locations,” the USTA’s letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson reads. “These delays undermine the ongoing efforts of cities and states to increase international visitation and threaten valuable revenue derived from international traveler spending.”

Keeping in mind a recently passed DHS appropriations bill that would allocate additional U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers during fiscal 2014, the letter argues that the economic impact of international travelers—who spent $99 billion in the United States in 2012, according to the association—is so large that it makes a compelling case to put at least half of those workers in airports, in an effort to reduce wait times for international flyers.

“We encourage you to adopt the metrics included in the Senate passed comprehensive immigration package to process 80 percent of air passengers within 30 minutes at primary inspections and all air travelers within 45 minutes under normal circumstances,” the letter continues.

Albuquerque: Ground Zero for Customs?

While the crunch continues at airports and sea ports nationwide, U.S. Customs has made some progress in expediting traveler wait times in recent years. The Global Entry trusted traveler program, which allows frequent travelers to pay a $100 application fee and go through a screening process in exchange for an easier time through customs, has proven successful. Last November, the program topped 1 million pre-screened travelers.

“Global Entry works,” USTA President Roger Dow said in a statement at the time of the milestone. “It simultaneously improves security and efficiency and should be expanded by making travelers from more countries eligible for enrollment.”

The interest level is high enough in that program that, according to the Associated Press, hundreds of business travelers have made a trek to Albuquerque in recent weeks just to get a Global Entry Pass. The city’s airport currently has a short waiting list for the program compared to major cities such as New York.

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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