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Travel group working to avoid another 'lost decade'

By Marnie Hunter, CNN
Cutting wait times is one of the U.S. Travel Association's principles for improving the travel experience.
Cutting wait times is one of the U.S. Travel Association's principles for improving the travel experience.
  • Layered security and entry restrictions have stunted travel growth since 9/11, group says
  • Wait times for travelers should be reduced and "one-size-fits-all" security revised
  • Technology and resources should be used to shift focus to higher-risk travelers

(CNN) -- A travel industry group outlined ways to reduce traveler wait times, improve customer service and provide a more tailored approach to security on Wednesday in a news conference addressing the industry's challenges in the decade following the September 11 attacks.

"We've really got to get to a situation in this country where we build the world's most secure and efficient travel system," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the national nonprofit U.S. Travel Association.

Among the recommendations: Reduce all airport security checkpoint delays to 10 minutes or less; decrease visa wait times to 10 days or less and cut international arrival waits to no more than 20 minutes.

Layered security measures and tightened entry restrictions ramped up since the attacks have contributed to what many in the travel industry call the "lost decade."

"In the past 10 years the rest of the world has increased their global, long-haul travel by 40%. In the same time period, the U.S. has basically increased less than 2%," Dow said.

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The United States is lagging behind the rest of the world in attracting travelers because it's difficult for many international visitors to get visas, the entry process has a reputation for being aggravating and the country hasn't, until recently, made a national effort to promote tourism, Dow said.

According to the association's analysis, if the United States had kept pace with the rest of the world in increasing long-haul international travel, 78 million more travelers would have visited in the last decade, adding $606 billion to the U.S. economy.

In addition to reducing wait times for travelers, the U.S. should improve customer service training, using "best practices of the hospitality industry," and consider using teleconferencing technology to conduct visa application interviews, the association said.

One-size-fits-all security isn't the the best use of technology and resources, Dow said.

"We've got to separate you and I from the folks that are much higher risk. And while we do have to have you and I go through security, we certainly do not have to have everybody do the exact same things and be treated the same," he said.

The association is urging a nationwide trusted traveler program to ease security for domestic travelers who voluntarily provide additional personal information, an expansion of the existing visa waiver program to include more countries, an easier visa process for repeat visitors to the United States and an expanded program to ease entry into the U.S. for pre-approved frequent travelers.