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US Travel Businesses' 'Lost Decade'

Suitcase on bed in hotel room.
Johannes Kroemer | The Image Bank | Getty Images
Suitcase on bed in hotel room.

The American economy has lost out on a half trillion dollars in travel and tourism after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, led to tighter visa requirements for many foreigners.

At the same time, it appears those tighter measures may have worked.

We haven't had another 9/11.

The balance between security and commerce is delicate, the ultimate risk-reward scenario.

Executives gathered at the Global Travel & Tourism Summit in Las Vegas say the U.S. has gone too far to put up a global "Keep Out" sign, and it has cost our economy $500 billion that went to other countries.

"We call it 'The Lost Decade,'" says Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association. "Other countries are cashing in on this gold mine."

There are about two dozen countries where foreign visitors do not need visas to visit the U.S. However, for emerging countries like China, India and Brazil, coming to America requires a face-to-face interview with a visa officer.

Travel Dollars - A CNBC Special Report
Travel Dollars - A CNBC Special Report

The wait can be up to 100 days, Dow says.

Convention organizers in Las Vegas say thousands of businesspeople and exhibitors are turned away each year, 40,000 from the annual Consumer Electronics Show alone, because they can't get visas in time.

Where do they go? In the case of Chinese tourists, Roger Dow says the United States is their top dream destination...but they end up going to France.

The average Chinese visitor to the U.S. spends $6,243 , and while 800,000 Chinese tourists came to America in 2010, nearly a million went to France.

In this interview, Dow explains what he thinks should be done to speed up the visa process, steps he claims could add $390 billion in extra foreign tourist dollars to the economy and create 1.3 more jobs by 2020.

Meantime, the President's Corporation for Travel Promotion is getting off the ground, America's first version of a ministry of tourism.

Headed by Stephen Cloobeck, CEO of timeshare giant Diamond Resorts International, the CTP's job is to increase tourism's contribution to GDP.

The Corporation hopes to raise $200 million from the private sector and $10 fees on foreign tourists to launch a massive campaign to sell "Brand USA" to the world.

Does America need to sell itself? Here's Cloobeck's answer in an exclusive interview.