January 19th, 2012
04:11 PM ET
(CNN) – What better place to talk about the increasing tourism in the United States than on Walt Disney World’s Main Street USA?
With Cinderella’s castle as a backdrop, President Barack Obama announced a new strategy to increase tourism to the United States. Hoping it will bring much-needed money and jobs; the president’s plan is set to make it easier for travelers from emerging countries to visit the many iconic sites across the US.
“Look at where we are. We’ve got the most entertaining destinations in the world,” Mr. Obama commented. “I’m here because I want more tourists here tomorrow. I want America to be the top tourist destination in the world.”
The plan, signed as an executive order by the president this morning, is expected to dramatically increase the number of foreign tourists allowed entry into the US. The hope is that millions more tourists will travel around the country and spend money in local economies which could lead to the creation of over a million jobs over the next decade.
“That’s why we’re here today- to tell the world that America is open for business. We want to welcome you and to take concrete steps to boost America’s tourism industry so that we keep growing our economy and creating more jobs- here in Florida and all across the country,” the president said.
The United State’s tourism industry has heavily lobbied the administration for the changes in visa policies. The aim is to help tourists, especially from Brazil, India, and China, decrease the wait-time to obtain or renew U.S. visas. Among other reforms, the plan calls for an additional 100 consular officers in those three countries over the next year.
According to Janice L. Jacobs, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, 90% of visa applications from the emerging countries are processed in less than three weeks. But with less wait-time, the number of visas issued could more than double over the next six years.
Not everyone is happy with the relaxation of tourist visa requirements.
“The President’s proposal flies in the face of the law we’ve had on the books because of 9/11. Only two of the 19 hijackers were interviewed by consular officers, so Congress mandated that all visa applicants be interviewed, with very few exceptions," said Senator Chuck Grassley, a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee which has jurisdiction over immigration policy.
"Once again, this administration is pushing the envelope and using their authority beyond congressional intent, allowing untold numbers of foreign nationals to bypass the in-person interview requirement, and risking national security in the process.”
Lucky for the president, the visit to Walt Disney World also placed him in a key battleground state days before a Republican presidential primary here, the result of which is likely to bring the GOP race to an unofficial close while ushering in the beginning of the months-long general election slog.
The White House maintains that though Disney World happens to be in a state vital to Obama’s reelection hopes, it played no role in the venue selection for the president’s announcement. White House Spokesman Jay Carney was quick to push back at media criticism that the Disney castle was all part of campaign stagecraft.
“It’s obvious when you’re making a tourism and travel announcement that one of the premier sites of U.S. tourism industry is Orlando, so it seems pretty self-evident that you would do that,” said Carney.
But official announcement aside, the political symbolism of the president’s visit to the Sunshine State is hard to overlook, coming just a day after his reelection team released its first campaign ad and a week after a new poll of Florida voters showed Obama neck and neck with likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
With 2012 on Floridians minds ahead of the January 31st GOP presidential primary here, it certainly can’t hurt for the president to trumpet job creation and economic growth in the state’s key industry – especially with the legendary Cinderella Castle as his backdrop.
Indeed, Obama just might be hoping the magic of Disney rubs off as he stares down the beginning of a 10-month marathon for a second term.