Travel procedures to the United States would be streamlined from three South American countries to boost tourism in Queens under a proposal by a local lawmaker.
Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx) unveiled a proposal Tuesday to expand the Department of Homeland Security’s Visa Waiver Program, which allows visitors from select countries to visit for 90 days without a visa.
Crowley hopes to convince the government to add Brazil, Argentina and Chile to the list.
“It is simple,” Crowley said at a news conference at the Queens Chamber of Commerce in Jackson Heights. “The easier it is for foreigners to enter the United States, the more likely they’ll come here.”
Tourists spent over $6 billion in the outer boroughs in 2010, Crowley said, including 70% on shopping and dining combined.
“We have to keep that number growing,” he added.
Since a large number of tourists enter New York through LaGuardia and JFK airports — both in Queens — the emphasis should be on keeping them in the borough, said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jack Friedman.
The latest initiative in the ongoing effort to boost tourism in the borough has been the
recent revitalization of the Queens Tourism Council, said the initiative’s champion, Seth Bornstein, executive director of the Queens Economic Development Corp.
“You walk through the streets of Flushing and Jackson Heights and Corona — it’s the real thing,” Bornstein said.
The three countries that Crowley wants to add to the Visa Waiver Program are a perfect fit, said Patricia Rojas, vice president for government relations at the United States Travel Association.
The average Brazilian tourist here spends about $5,000 during a trip, Rojas said, more than twice as much as those visiting from France or England.
“That’s the kind of visitor we really want,” Rojas said. “The kind that comes and spends their money and then goes back and tells people about how great America is.”
The European Union, which already has visa-free travel for Brazilians, attracts a far larger share of tourists, Rojas noted.
Stephen Tatarian, owner of La Fusta, the oldest Argentine restaurant in New York City, said he supports the measure “100 percent.”
“Aside from the food, we try to keep it New York,” Tatarian, a second-generation Argentine, said of his restaurant in Elmhurst. “We’re like a beacon for tourists and immigrants.”
By Joe Parziale, New York Daily News,