On June 1, Boston will become America’s newest Trans-Pacific Gateway city, with the start by Japan Airlines of daily nonstop service to Boston.
It’s the culmination of a joint marketing effort led by Massport and the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism and could generate an estimated $75 million in new visitor spending across New England.
While this is great news for our region, it’s just one step in a much wider campaign to keep Boston and New England competitive when it comes to international tourism.
Having secured this air link to the Far East, we now need to look south — specifically, to Brazil.
Brazil is a thriving country with a strong middle class. Maximizing the number of Boston visitors from Brazil and other South American cities is a no-brainer. But, as was once the case with Japan, you can’t get here from there, at least not without connecting through another East coast airport.
Adding urgency to this mission is the fact that other major American cities have had direct service to and from Brazil for some time. Right now, Boston’s not even in the game.
The benefits of international tourism spending on our region can’t be overstated. Of the estimated $12 billion spent annually by visitors to Boston, $2.1 billion is spent by international visitors. Additionally, while international visitors comprise just 5 percent of total visitors to Boston, they generate 15 percent of the total visitor spending.
And what Boston offers to our international visitors makes it a match from heaven: world-class universities and medical centers, historic and cultural landmarks, great hotels and restaurants, and the best walking-accessible shopping of any international destination.
What’s needed to tap into this lucrative market is an aggressive, multi-faceted campaign similar to the one that successfully created the Tokyo-Boston connection.
Some of the groundwork for this effort is already in place. Boston and other destination cities will benefit from new initiatives taken by President Obama to boost international tourism in America. They include speeding up the visa process for foreign visitors, with special focus on countries such as China, Brazil and India, and allowing frequent travelers who have passed extensive background checks to scan their fingerprints and passports and skip long lines at airports.
The federal government is doing its job to streamline the travel process, and now those of us in New England’s visitor industry have to do ours.
In helping to establish the Tokyo-Boston service, Massport — working with Governor Patrick — created incentives, eased restrictions, and cut through red tape to make it happen. A similar approach is needed to secure the next beachhead in Brazil.
And we need to focus on programs that welcome them to Boston. How? Make them feel at home by recognizing and respecting their culture, conducting tours and printing menus in their own language and easing the hurdles at Logan Airport.
With cities across the United States competing fiercely for visitor dollars, Boston’s visitor industry needs to do whatever it takes to make Brazil-to-Boston a reality.
Patrick B. Moscaritolo is president and chief executive officer of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.