Monday, 13 February 2012
Easing the U.S. Visa Hassle for Tourists Who Shop.
Retailers have successfully lobbied to get travel rules relaxed for the Chinese and Brazilians.
For the past decade, Michael Gould says he’s watched with envy as a “stupefying” number of Chinese tourists lined up outside the doors of high-end boutiques in Paris, Rome, and other European cities. “We find it frustrating to see business going elsewhere,” says the chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s. Luring more foreign shoppers to New York is more complicated than just decorating store windows, though. Post-Sept. 11 security policies mean some wealthy foreign shoppers have to wait months for travel visas to the U.S.
So last May, Gould and his counterparts at Macy’s and Saks began lobbying the federal government to make it easier for tourists to enter the U.S. from China and Brazil; retailers say shoppers from both countries have become big spenders when they visit, and demand for visas among Chinese and Brazilians has increased. The average Chinese tourist spends $6,000 while in the U.S., according to the Commerce Dept. In January, President Barack Obama gave the State Dept. 60 days to come up with a way to decrease the time that Chinese and Brazilian tourists have to wait for a visa from four months to three weeks. “We have the kind of brands that are highly respected by these visitors,” says Gould, “and the faster they can get here the better.”
Despite the long wait for travel papers, the sagging dollar had would-be tourists from China and Brazil lining up at American embassies last year, with officials issuing 34 percent more visas to Chinese and 42 percent more to Brazilians than in 2010. “This is a winning situation for retailers because a key reason overseas visitors want to come is to shop, not to work as they used to,” says David French, chief lobbyist for the Washington-based National Retail Federation. The President also ordered State to issue 40 percent more visas for Chinese and Brazilian tourists in 2012. “The more folks who visit America, the more Americans we get back to work,” Obama said.
With roughly 1.4 million Chinese and more than 1 million Brazilians expected to come to the U.S. this year under the new program, Bloomingdale’s is prepping for the influx by hiring more multilingual sales staff, planning overseas ad campaigns, and increasing orders of iconic American brands with prominently placed logos—think Ralph Lauren —that store managers say foreign tourists like to show off back at home.