Orlando, Florida - January 19, 2012 -
Standing in front of the Cinderella Castle at Disney World -- one of the nation's bustling tourism hubs -- President Obama on Thursday unveiled a series of initiatives intended to boost travel and tourism in the U.S., as well as job creation in those industries.
"Every year tens of millions of tourists come to visit America," Mr. Obama said. "You've got the greatest country on Earth -- people want to come. That means people are renting cars, staying at hotels... It means people are doing business here in the United States."
In 2010, nearly 60 million visitors to the U.S. helped make tourism the nation's largest service export industry. There were 7.5 million jobs supported by the industry in 2010, with international travel supporting 1.2 million jobs alone. But there's room for the industry to grow, the president said, noting the growing middle class populations in countries like China and India.
With that in mind, Mr. Obama today signed an executive order that, among other things, calls for the improvement of visa application processing and better international promotion of U.S. tourism sites.
The president has asked his administration to consider expanding the number of countries from which tourists can enter the U.S. without a visa (currently there are 36 countries). He's also charged the Departments of State and Homeland Security with speeding up the processing of visa applications from China and Brazil.
"We want more folks to have an easier time coming to the United States," Mr. Obama said, adding that the number of tourists can be increased while keeping national security the nation's top priority.
Today's executive order also calls for an interagency task force that will focus on promoting domestic and international travel. Mr. Obama said foreign tourists should want to visit "not just Epcot Center, but the Everglades, too."
Evoking images of the nation's great man-made and natural attractions, from the Golden Gate to the Grand Canyon, Mr. Obama said he wants the U.S. to be the world's top tourist destination. "We've got the best product to sell," he said.
The president joked that he was excited to meet Mickey Mouse, remarking, "It's always nice to meet a world leader who has bigger ears than me."
"It is rare I get to do something Sasha and Malia envy me for," he added.
Mr. Obama is not the first president to speak at Disney World, notes CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller. In fact, President Nixon's famous "I am not a crook" defense was delivered on November 17, 1973 at a journalism convention at the Contemporary Resort Hotel on park grounds.