LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida — President Barack Obama is pitching a plan for boosting international tourism to the U.S. by speeding visa processing in China and Brazil — choosing a Walt Disney World theme park for the announcement as Republicans prepare to blanket Florida ahead of the state's Jan. 31 presidential primary.
"America is open for business," Obama said, standing in front of Disney's Cinderella's Castle
Obama issued an executive order Thursday, with the goal of significantly increasing travel and tourism in the U.S. The White House says more than 1 million U.S. jobs could be created over the next decade, according to industry projections, if the U.S. increases its share of the international travel market.
"The more folks who visit America, the more Americans we get back to work," Obama said in a statement before boarding Air Force One to Florida.
Thursday's trip is the latest attempt by the White House and Obama campaign to steal a share of the spotlight from Republicans in the midst of their nomination fight. Obama held a live video conference with Iowa voters during the Republican caucus, Vice President Joe Biden held a similar event with voters in New Hampshire as primary votes there were being counted, and next week Obama will travel to Nevada, which follows Florida on the primary calendar.
Obama's high-profile trip to Florida could help him counter attacks on his record by Republican presidential candidates during stops across the state. And it allows Obama to lay the groundwork for the general election campaign in Florida, a key political battleground he carried in 2008.
Republican front-runner Mitt Romney already has been testing economic attacks on Obama in Florida. In an open letter to the president Thursday running as an ad in the Tampa Bay Times, Romney wrote: "Welcome to Florida. I have a simple question for you: Where are the jobs? .... Mr. President, forgive me for being blunt, but when it comes to economic affairs, you're out of your depth. Unlike you, I am not a career politician."
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed the president in a near-statistical tie with Romney in Florida in a head-to-head matchup.
The White House says the travel and tourism industry represented 2.7 percent of gross domestic product and 7.5 million jobs in 2010. But the U.S. share of spending by international travelers fell from 17 percent to 11 percent between 2000 and 2010, due to increased competition and changes in global development, as well as security measures imposed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S., according to the White House.
Tourism is a key component of the economy in Florida, which is burdened by 10 percent unemployment and rampant home foreclosures. Thursday's tourism and travel announcement is part of the president's "We Can't Wait" initiative aimed at promoting executive actions Obama can take without congressional approval.
Obama's executive order aims to: boost non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent this year; expand a Visa Waiver Program that allows participating nationals to travel to the U.S. for stays of 90 days or less without a visa; appoint a new group of chief executives to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board; and direct an interagency task force to develop recommendations for a National Travel and Tourism Strategy, including promoting national parks and other sites.
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