IITA leaders met with officials at the U.S. Departments of State, Commerce, Homeland Security, and Interior this week to discuss the state of the inbound travel recovery and ongoing challenges, including extensive wait times for U.S. visas in many countries.

The IITA delegation met with Julie Stufft, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services; Brian Beall, Director of the NTTO; and Kim Weissman, Senior Communications Director for CBP in the Department of Homeland Security. Each provided updates from their departments and affirmed the federal government’s inter-departmental coordination to address challenges and barriers for international travelers visiting the U.S.

IITA members shared market intel and provided input on several key factors affecting international visitation, including extensive wait times in multiple source markets. The group noted the growing need for handling visa processing for both leisure and MICE groups, noting several major events to be held in the U.S. in the next few years – FIFA World Cup, Route 66 100th Birthday, the USA’s 250th anniversary and the Olympics to name a few.

According to DAS Stufft, a number of initiatives in place or underway will improve the visa wait issues in several countries with long wait times, including a global remote processing center to handle visa applications that don’t require an in-person interview, the ability to get U.S. visas outside the traveler’s home country, and staffing up in China for the imminent growth in travel to the USA.

“DAS Stufft and her team are genuinely interested in hearing about market conditions, including visa wait times, directly from inbound operators who essentially have boots on the ground with their vast networks of travel trade partners,” said Lisa Simon, IITA CEO / Executive Director. “We understand there are challenges, and we appreciate the focus and priority placed on improving visa processing and entry experiences given the rapidly growing demand for the USA. We don’t see that demand slowing down any time soon.”

In addition to Chairwoman Ross, IITA participants included:
– Petra Hackworth, Vice President Global Sales, Travel Oregon
– Umang Malbari, CEO, Discover Destinations
– Pabs Raghava, CEO, Tours Limited
– Peter van Berkel, President, Travalco
– Lisa Simon, IITA CEO | Executive Director

Also while in DC, IITA members met with the National Park Service to hear updates on the Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) program for road-based commercial tours and managed access plans for easing congestions at the most visited parks. NPS representatives included Deputy Director of Management and Administration Lena McDowall, Associate Director of Business Services Justin Unger and Chief of Commercial Services Kurt Rausch. Also attending was NTA President Catherine Prather, a long-term partner with IITA on NPS issues.

NPS confirmed the application for Road-based Commercial Tour CUAs would begin this fall for 2025 but only in the 18 parks that currently require a CUA, which will provide the opportunity to assess the program before going systemwide in 2026. They are still working on several elements of the program, like normalizing application fees, management fee structures, and potential exemptions for parks with no single entry port or are too small to sufficiently staff CUA management.

They further reported working on managed access/congestion issues but have not determined specific plans at this point. Several parks, however, have implemented timed entry reservation systems and feedback from those will be considered along with industry input prior to any decisions are made for broader implementation.

The IITA delegation was in Washington as part of the travel industry’s legislative fly-in event, Destination Capitol Hill, coordinated by U.S. Travel Association. DCH brought industry professionals together from all 50 states to discuss industry priorities that will increase global competitiveness, drive economic growth, and create and support jobs nationwide. IITA has been a sponsor of the event for the past seven years.