I am glad to be at Disney World, President Barack Obama said as he visited the Orlando, Florida park on Thursday to pitch a plan for boosting tourism to the U.S. It's rare that I get to do something that Sasha and Malia envy me for, he joked.
Obama stood in front of Cinderella's Castle in the Magic Kingdom and ordered steps to increase the number and speed the approval of non-immigrant visas, particularly in China, India, and Brazil, as part of a plan to create more tourism jobs in the U.S. He ordered the Departments of State and Homeland Security to increase non-immigrant processing capacity in the three nations by 40 percent this year and ensure that 80 percent of those applicants are interviewed within three weeks.
The interview process now has a much longer turnaround time.
Brazil rose rapidly in recent years as one of Orlando's biggest sources of tourists. The administration projects the number of travelers from Brazil will increase 274 percent by 2016. China, meanwhile, will rise by 15 percent and more than one million U.S. jobs will be created over the next 10 years if the country expands its shares of the international tourism market, according to the White House.
The administration also hopes to speed up clearance of pre-approved, low-risk travelers entering the U.S.
Obama highlighted these issues in Orlando on Thursday and called for the Commerce and Interior Departments to make recommendations on promoting domestic and international travel, particularly to national parks and historic sites.
According to the White House, travel and tourism represented about 2.7 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and supported over 7.5 million jobs in 2010. The decision to make Thursday's announcement in Orlando came because, as White House press secretary Jay Carney said, it's one of the premier sites of the U.S. tourism industry.
The president is taking steps to boost the economy in ways that don't require action by Congress. His trip to Disney World is part of the administration's run-up to the State of the Union address next week.
Many see the visit as an appeal for voters in Florida, a notorious swing state and major prize in the presidential election with 29 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. Republican presidential candidates did not pass up the chance to take a shot. Mitt Romney, for example, ridiculed the trip as yet another stop in fantasyland for the president.
The entire city of Orlando was abuzz on Thursday as Air Force One touched down at Orlando International Airport just before noon. Obama then departed for the Magic Kingdom where he detailed his tourism-boosting plans on Main Street U.S.A.
About 200 Disney cast members and Orlando City officials awaited Obama's arrival in Magic Kingdom, where parts of the park were closed to the public. Obama is the fourth sitting president to visit a Walt Disney World park and the first since Jimmy Carter to visit the Magic Kingdom.
In his speech, he noted the actions the U.S. is taking to become a bona fide tourist destination. In November, the U.S. took steps toward branding the nation as a whole by introducing Discover America, the first-ever unified marketing effort and global consumer brand to lure in visitors for leisure, business, and scholarly purposes.
Obama said he wants America to be the top tourist destination in the world.
People want to come here, he said. So this is what it's all about - telling the world that America is open for business.
View the full speech below: