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Global Travel and Tourism Summit Breakfast - Rice

Global Travel and Tourism Summit Breakfast

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
D.C. Convention Center
Washington, DC
April 12, 2006

(7:30 a.m. EDT)

Well, thank you very much, Vince, for that really kind introduction and I am delighted to have a chance to be here with you, fellow ministers and members of the diplomatic corps and distinguished patrons of the Global Travel and Tourism Summit. I'm really honored to speak to you this morning as you begin the final day of what I know has been a fascinating conference and a really important conference. And let me just say that I am pleased, really pleased, and want to thank all of the people who made it possible that this summit is being held here in the United States. Thank you very much for coming here. (Applause.)

Now, since becoming Secretary of State last year, I've learned a few things about global travel and not enough unfortunately about tourism. Last year I spent 500 hours on an airplane and I visited 49 countries. I recently returned from a trip that began in the United States, went to Chile, went to Indonesia, then to Australia and then back to the United States, a total of nearly 31,000 miles and the circumferences of the earth is about 25,000 miles. So we didn't plan very well. And with a scheduled like that, I not only travel a lot, but I unfortunately don't have a lot of time for site seeing.

Now, when I took this job nonetheless I knew that I wanted to have an active travel agenda. Because despite the modern prevalence of mobile phones and wireless internet and video conferencing, travel is not less important for diplomacy, it's more important. When you can look a person in the eye as you have a conversation, when you can see the people and the places of foreign countries firsthand, you gain a sense of intimacy and knowledge that does not just come from a phone call or in an e-mail.

That is why last October I invited British Foreign Minister Jack Straw to spend a weekend in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, and why I was eager to join him in Blackburn and Liverpool, England, just two weeks ago.

Too often we diplomats spend all of our time in capital cities which, though nice, may not be entirely representative of the whole country. In the coming years, I plan to invite a lot more foreign colleagues to travel with me to American cities that show a different side of our country and people that you may find in Washington, D.C. or in New York.

The benefits of travel, though, are not limited to the official comings and goings of diplomats. They extend especially to the global journeys of private citizens. As this audience surely knows, traveling to another country, for whatever reason, is a highly entertaining and enriching experience. It breaks down stereotypes and makes people quicker to listen and slower to judge. Travel fosters understanding and builds respect and creates a subtlety of opinion.

I think the title you have chosen for this year's summit gets right to the heart of the point that I'm making: Open Mind, Open World. To put it simply, the knowledge and experience that citizens gain through their private travels is vital for the cause of diplomacy and international understanding in the 21st century. We in America recognize this fact and we value it, especially President Bush and all of us who serve this nation's government.

Throughout our history, America has always been a welcoming nation. And today, we are more committed than ever to advancing our tradition of openness. This year, the United States expects to welcome about 52 million foreign visitors into our country -- men and women who come here to work, to study or just to stay a while and see what America is like. And of course, our citizens are just as eager to travel abroad and to see the world. Americans take 60 million foreign trips a year, touching nearly ever country on the globe.

Since the attacks of September 11th, our nation's commitment to openness has been tested by new and unprecedented threats from global terrorism. The terrorists who attacked us on that September day and who wish to hit us again depend on illicit travel practices for their operations. When we make it harder for terrorists to travel, we make it harder for them to attack us. And it is absolutely vital for us, all of us, to enhance the security of international travel. Another terrorist attack would not just be damaging to America; it would be extremely detrimental to honest travelers everywhere.

We recognize, though, that striking a balance is important. And we certainly do not want to make things more difficult for legitimate travelers. I know that some of our initial security measures after September 11th have caused delays in getting visas and even led some foreign citizens to believe that the United States is no longer welcoming to them. We've heard these legitimate concerns and we are doing everything that we can to improve our visa policy while also maintaining our security.

As we do so, we greatly appreciate your support, your advice and your constructive criticism. I would ask you, in particular, to help us better inform travelers about security requirements. When people have this important information, they can plan ahead and their travel experience is therefore smoother and more positive. With your help on this issue, travelers, the travel industry and our government can all work and benefit together.

Improving global travel is a public/private partnership and we in the State Department are working hard to do our part. With support from Congress, we have created 515 new consular positions since September 2001. This change, along with others, is helping to make the visa process more transparent, more efficient and hopefully more expeditious. Around the world today, 97 percent of approved travelers receive their visa in a day or two, and we've dramatically decreased the wait time for the rest and these actions are getting results. We've increased the number of foreign travelers in America every year since 2001 and we are now issuing more visas than at any time since September 11th.

Now, these positive trends are important but they are only the beginning and I understand that. With your help we can continue to make real improvements. In January, I joined with Mike Chertoff, my colleague, the Secretary of Homeland Security, to take the next steps to realize President Bush's vision of secure borders and open door in this information age.

I'd like to discuss a few of these positive steps with you this morning. One, an important work in progress, is the creation of travel documents for the 21st century. We are expanding the issuance of what we call e-passports. These documents contain a computer chip that safely and efficiently stores travelers' personal information, making it easier and faster for them to get where they are going. I now carry an e-passport myself. Soon our entire diplomatic corps will as well. And by the end of the year, we plan to make these new documents available to the general public.

Another improvement that we are initiating is an electronic visa process with a fully electronic application. Later this year, we will begin testing how digital video conferencing technology could facilitate the processing of visas. Of course, we must ensure that the security of the visa process remains intact, as does the private biometric information of applicants; we want to ensure safety and privacy. But if we can do this successfully, the new process could make life dramatically easier for many foreign citizens who now have to travel great distances just to be interviewed by a U.S. consular officer.

We are making entry into America faster. We are also trying to make it friendlier and still secure. With generous help from our private partners, we are taking steps to improve customer service for foreign travelers in America's airports. The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security are introducing a pilot model airport program. This project will allow us to try out new ideas, like customized video messages and friendly airport greeters that will help foreign travelers to navigate our border entry process in a more respectful way.

The companies represented here have significant expertise in customer service and you can help us develop the best approach in the airports we have selected for this year: Washington Dulles and Houston. The most promising programs from these airports will serve as models to improve ports of entry across our country.

One final change that I want to mention to you is the new Business Visa Center which the State Department established last year. This program makes it easier for both foreign employees and the foreign partners of American companies to get visas to do legitimate business in the United States. We estimate that 35,000 travelers every month are assisted directly and indirectly by our new Business Visa Centers.

Now, these improvements, along with many others that we're implementing at the same time, should make it easier for people everywhere to experience the joys of global travel and of tourism. But let me stress that this is not the end of the road nor is it as good as it gets. Improving global travel will be an ongoing challenge, stretching long into the future. We in the government cannot achieve this goal alone. After all, the government isn't exactly known for customer service. We need the help and engagement of private partners, partners like you. Let us know how we can make travel faster, more enjoyable and more compassionate and more respectful for everyone involved. Work with us to improve the travel systems that serve all of us so well.

And I would personally ask you to help us spread the word that America has heard the legitimate concerns of travelers worldwide and that we are responding with clear changes for the better. The troubles that you have heard about or may have even experienced in 2002 are no longer the case in 2006. America's doors are now more open, even as our borders are more secure, but we have much more to do. Together, let us seize the historic opportunities before us to make global travel and tourism a source of shared understanding in the 21st century. Thank you for your essential contributions to this great industry. Thank you for the work that you will do with us in the future as well as the work that you have done with us in the past, and I hope that you enjoy the rest of this important summit. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Released on April 12, 2006

ENDS


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