Thanks for coming Mr. President…

Filed under: Florida News |

Air Force One touched down at Orlando International Airport at 11:36 a.m., four minutes early, and  the president was greeted by a crowd of about 75 supporters. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who had been in Washington at the National Conference of Mayors, and Commerce Secretary Jon Bryson flew with Obama before they then set off for the “Happiest Place on Earth”, Walt Disney World.

Ruben Perez, a Cuban-American restaurateur who operates the Zsa Zsa Café at Orlando International Airport and Yayas in Orlando opened proceedings at Magic Kingdom before introducing the President and he said: “Anything that increases travel to Orlando is good for all our businesses.”

The President took the stage at 12.40pm and by 12.53pm it was all over as he amplified an executive order that he had issued earlier in the day. Available here… 2012visitor.eo.rel

The order was really as much an appeal to Brazilians and their dollars as it was to Florida voters and their jobs. With Cinderella’s Castle rising in the background, the president’s speech touched on procedures to speed up the issuance of tourist visas to citizens of Brazil and China, who currently wait months to get permission to travel to the United States.

“People want to come here. And China and Brazil are two of the countries with the biggest backlogs,” he said. “So this is what it’s all about – telling the world that America is open for business,” he added.

The executive order mandates a 40 percent increase in personnel to Brazil and China over the next 12 months and requires that that 80 percent of “nonimmigrant visa” applicants be interviewed within three weeks. The plan, as explained by the White House, would dispatch more than 100 additional State Department employees to Brazil and China, and more broadly expand a program that allows “low-risk” international visitors to get through airports more smoothly.

Obama assured the “invitees only” 220 strong crowd that the United States would continue to “protect our borders” even as it fosters a more welcoming environment for tourists.

There was room for some brevity as Obama started his comments by recognizing Mickey Mouse as he quipped: “It’s always nice to meet someone who has bigger ears than me,”

The speech was simulcast at the Hall of Presidents in Liberty visitors for Disney visitors, who were kept away from the speech site, and in backstage areas so that Disney cast members could watch.

Central Florida’s unemployment rate, just less than 10 percent, still is worse than the national average. So a bigger flow of tourists and their money from Brazil, which has a relatively strong economy, means support for the region’s still dominant industry.

Obama is the fourth sitting president to visit a Walt Disney World park, the first since George H.W. Bush in 1991 and he was the first to visit the Magic Kingdom since Jimmy Carter in 1978.  He left with a message ringing in the ears of the travel industry “I want the United States to be the top tourist destination in the world.”

So what do we make of it all?

Well, while any message that is pro tourism is to be welcomed, it really felt a very staged managed affair with only select dignitaries invited to hear a very well rehearsed message. OK, so we’re going to make it easier for people in certain parts of the world to enter the United States but if you ask any British visitor who has to meet the ESTA requirements, they’ll say it is still too cumbersome an affair and essentially this will be the program that will be rolled out on a wider scale.

Further, there are still many issues at immigration that need to be resolved as visitors often have long lines to encounter after a long and tiring journey. Do the people who currently visit really feel welcomed the moment they touch down on US soil? Not from what I hear.

And then, here’s another question… how does any of this help domestic tourism? No mention of how he and his administration are actually helping everyday people to be able to afford vacations and to keep the money flowing around.

At the end of the day, I can’t help but think it was a rather pointless exercise. Was it really necessary to take a trip to Orlando just to spend 13 minutes on stage talking about tourism? Surely that could have been done without leaving his desk in Washington?

Further, I pour scorn on any stage managed event of this nature anyway. Apart from one restaurant owner, how many other people who actually own and run tourism businesses were actually invited? It’s all very well inviting chosen dignitaries who claim to represent the industry but ultimately they’re not the people on the shop floor interacting with the visitors and guests.

Au revoir Mr. President. Can’t wait for your next visit.

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