WASHINGTON, May 22 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will make a pitch for U.S. tourism at a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Thursday as part of his efforts to provide a boost for U.S. economic growth.
After meeting with the executives of tourism-related companies in Washington, the president is scheduled to travel to the Cooperstown, New York, institution, which celebrates Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle and other baseball greats and men with nicknames such as "Old Hoss," "Dizzy," and "Country."
The museum, which drew just over 250,000 visitors in 2013, was picked for the event because it draws tourists from around the world, officials said.
The president is aiming to draw attention to efforts to boost growth by making it easier for foreign visitors to spend money in the United States. To that end, he is announcing measures to reduce the time it takes to get out of major airports and highlighting progress made in streamlining visa applications, particularly from emerging economies such as Brazil and China.
But he may have a hard time diverting attention from a flaring controversy over alleged neglect of veterans' healthcare that could cost Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki his job. Obama has dispatched one of his inner circle, Rob Nabors, to investigate charges that long wait times for veterans seeking medical treatment could have led to some deaths.
Obama is due to sign a presidential memorandum directing the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security to reduce wait times for international travelers when they arrive at the 15 largest airports in the country, administration officials said. Dallas-Ft. Worth and Chicago O'Hare airports have been able to cut average wait times by 40 percent to an average of 15 minutes through automated passport kiosks and better signage, officials said.
Each international visitor spends on average $4,500 per visit, and the number of visitors has grown to 70 million in 2013 from 55 million in 2009, the White House said. Those visitors spent $180.7 billion, and the travel and tourism industry overall supported 8 million jobs, the administration said. (Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)