Visa Delays Continue to Impact the Events Industry

Ariel shot of Washington Monument

Skift Take

It takes a minimum of 849 days to get a visitor visa interview appointment in Mexico City. In Bogota, it’s 640 days. Mumbai, 499 days. These delays have a tangible negative impact on the events industry.

Nearly three years after the Covid pandemic, events are still low on international exhibitors, attendees, and buyers. Visa delays are blamed for much of this shortfall. The industry is doing its part to rectify this with the help of the advocacy group Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance (ECA).

Approximately 140 meeting and event professionals from 27 states met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill during Legislative Action Day. Their message? It’s time for Congress to improve visa processing and help the business events industry bring back all its international exhibitors and attendees. 

The U.S. State Department has set a goal of having 90% of wait times below 90 days. “That’s not good enough for many of our international stakeholders who need to start making financial outlays 6-9 months in advance of coming to a U.S. event,” said ECA’s Vice President Tommy Goodwin.

Senators are encouraged to co-sponsor S.2632, a bipartisan bill, the Visa Processing Improvement Act. It also encourages House Representatives to co-sponsor H.R.5127: the Visitor Visa Wait Time Reduction Act.

Visa Wait Times Impact DC’s Visitation Numbers

Visa wait times impacted the visitation numbers Destination DC (DDC), the city’s official destination marketing organization, released the day before Legislative Action Day at an event at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Although more people visited Washington, DC, in 2023 than ever before, international visitor numbers are lagging.

Washington, D.C., welcomed 25.95 million total visitors last year, up 17 percent from 2022 and surpassing the pre-pandemic record set in 2019. The new benchmark resulted in a record $10.2 billion in visitor spending, supporting 102,366 local jobs.  

“This is a major milestone for Washington, DC,” said Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO of DDC. “There is still work to do, however, since international travel hasn’t fully recovered.” 

Of the record 25.95 million total visitors, 24 million traveled domestically, meaning domestic visitation has fully rebounded to 105 percent of 2019 figures. International visitation continues to trend towards pre-pandemic levels. The 1.95 million international visitors indicate an 85 percent return and a 40 percent increase year-on-year.

DDC is keen to boost the number of international travelers who typically stay longer and spend twice as much as their domestic counterparts.