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US tourism industry expecting record-setting year

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According to the US Department of Commerce, the US travel and tourism industry is expecting a record-setting year with spending and visitor numbers already well above last year's figures.

"In May, international visitors spent nearly $14 billion in travel to, and tourism-related activities within, the US," Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said. "That's $1 billion (8 percent) more than May of last year, and it marks 29 straight months of growth. This also means that we are on pace for a record-setting year with international visitors having spent over $68 billion so far, up 12 percent compared to last year."

Eastern European visitors to the US increased by 13 percent, while visitors from Africa increased by 20 percent, and visitors from Asia increased by 27 percent. Meanwhile, Americans spent around $50 billion on travel and tourism in other countries during the first five months of 2012.

Blank called tourism a "high-growth bright spot in our economy," saying "it's clearer than ever that this industry is one of our key national strengths."

Nationals of countries like China, India, and South Africa are required to apply for visitor visas in order to travel to the US. However, 36 countries are part of the US' Visa Waiver Program which eases foreign travel to the US by enabling nationals of participating countries to travel to the US for stays of 90 days or less without having to obtain a visa. Countries currently part of the visa waiver program include Australia, the UK, New Zealand, Germany, and France.

Citizens of countries under the visa waiver program are still required to apply for the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application. ESTA is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program. You will need to submit the ESTA if:
  • You are a citizen or eligible national of a Visa Waiver Program country.
  • You are currently not in possession of a visitor's visa.
  • Your travel is for 90 days or less.
  • You plan to travel to the US for business or pleasure.
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