Airport Welcome Mats Are Out

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by Kevin M. Burke
President and CEO

Spring has finally arrived across most of North America, and with it, the opening of the travel season. At ACI-NA, we are marking National Travel and Tourism Week by highlighting some of the ways we work to improve the travel experience for millions of domestic and international passengers.

To provide a more hassle-free travel experience, ACI-NA is actively engaged in advocating for more support and personnel for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to improve the customs and security processes in line with the projections for significant growth in travelers, especially international visitors.

The positive economic impact of international tourism begins at our airports.  Last year, a record 69.8 million international visitors – spending more than $180 billion dollars – traveled to the United States. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates 4.7 percent more international tourists will visit the U.S. this year, with more growth projected through at least 2018.

To meet leisure travelers’ growing needs, airports are working cooperatively with CBP to expand the Global Entry program, which now moves arriving travelers more quickly, efficiently and securely through 44 U.S. and Canadian airports.

We have also advocated on behalf of initiatives like the automated passport control kiosks, to move U.S. and Canadian travelers through the Customs process quickly and securely. A total of 10 airports, including Chicago, DFW, Houston, Orlando, New York, Seattle, Toronto, Miami, Montreal and Vancouver now offer this expedited service, and we hope to see more in the near future.

In fact, Orlando is now piloting with CBP a program to have these self-service kiosks available for non-U.S. citizens.

Airports are continually adding new services to improve every aspect of the travel experience.  We’re seeing everything from spas and children’s play areas to fine dining that features regional cuisine and retail attractions that offer sought-after international brands or local specialties.  For instance, just this past week DFW announced that it is adding high-end retailers to appeal to international traveler.  Innovative service amenities like this are designed to appeal to domestic and international travelers, helping airports become destinations themselves.

These efforts are paying off.  Denver, which has been undertaking its own service and retail expansions, set a record in March for the largest number of passengers traveling on international flights in a single month.

With the increase in international travelers, it is clear that airports are the front doors to our nation, and our members are working hard to make sure visitors have a good experience.