By Justin Sink - 05/22/14 04:39 PM EDT
President Obama touted a series of new administrative actions designed to boost international tourism to the U.S. while visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. on Thursday.
"We're spending a lot of time and focus trying to make it easier for folks to come here," Obama said.
Obama has ordered his administration to find ways to cut customs wait times at the nation's 15 largest airports, in a bid to make international tourism easier.
"I want to turn the 70 million tourists that came last year into 100 million each year by the beginning of the next decade," he said.
The Department of Homeland Security will also expand the use of automated passport kiosks, looking to further reduce wait times. And six federal agencies will look to promote U.S. tourist attractions with a new public-private advertising campaign set to launch in 10 cities internationally.
"I've directed my administration to work with airports, airlines, hotel groups, states and cities to do more to improve the traveler experience and to reduce wait times for folks entering into the United States, all without compromising our security," Obama said.
The president noted that tourism was responsible for $1.5 trillion in economic activity nationwide and said that, unlike some industries, the jobs couldn't be outsourced.
"Folks who work at restaurants and hotels that serve fans in Cooperstown have the kinds of jobs that can't be offshored," he said. "And obviously, it's tough to ship the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Canyon overseas; you can't do it."
Obama said he was reminded of the global appeal of America's tourist attractions during his impromptu walk from the White House to the Interior Department on Wednesday, during which he encountered visitors from across the globe.
He joked that he didn't often get to walk freely because it made his Secret Service detail nervous.
"I'm like the circus bear that breaks the chain, and everyone starts whispering, 'The bear is loose!' " Obama joked.
"The fact that people come from all over the world to see our parks, to see our monuments is something we should take great pride in as Americans, and it's good for our economy."
The president also used the trip to extol the virtues of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He became the first sitting president to visit the museum, which he hailed as a "powerful economic engine." He noted that he got to see the baseball that William Howard Taft threw out in 1910, the first time a president participated in the Opening Day tradition.
He also said he donated the jacket from his infamous "mom jeans" first pitch at the 2009 All Star Game in St. Louis.
"I hear that with all the media attention about it, there was also some interest in the jeans I wore that night," Obama said. "But Michelle retired those jeans quite a while back."