Downtown Miami lines up behind South America visa waivers
By Catherine Lackner
Miami's Downtown Development Authority last week added its voice to those of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Beacon Council, American Airlines and others urging the US government to loosen incoming travel requirements in an attempt to boost tourism.
Specifically, the authority wants to see Argentina, Brazil and Chile added to the Visa Waiver Program, which enables nationals of 36 participating countries to travel to the US for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. No South American country except French Guiana is admitted to the program, though Australia, Germany, Hungary, South Korea, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Brunei are.
Last year, Brazilian visitors spent $1.1 billion in Miami-Dade County, and that amount is expected to double if the travel requirements are made more lenient.
"We've been talking about the visa waiver for a year," said board member Alvin West, who is chief operating officer of the convention bureau. "We're trying to get the Florida legislature on board, and one thing they want to know is, Is the business community for it? Brazil last year became our first billion-dollar market."
Brazilians spent twice what domestic visitors do, Mr. West said, and "downtown is well positioned for this" if the visa requirement is lifted. "We want to get more Brazilians to Miami."
"Why only these countries?" asked board member Alan Ojeda. "Why not everybody? Why not Mexico?"
Mexico is already one of the 36 participating countries, Mr. West told him. "We want to do it in layers."
"Doing it in layers is the correct way," board member Rolando Montoya said. "The government is concerned about people who come here and remain illegally. If you target countries with economic prosperity, the probability that they're going to return is high."
William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, who is heading visa waiver aims of the US Travel Association, has said he expects the visa waiver to become reality within a year.
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