Saturday, February 9, 2008

Interesting Article.

I, for one, had absolutely no idea...Just thought I would share with you.


We are about to advertise the delights of visiting the U.S.A. while at the same time adopting constant measures to keep foreigners out

In Washington, D.C. this past week, I heard a lot of talk about the probability that the new session of Congress will set up a public-private organization spending $200 million dollars a year to promote and market incoming travel to the United States. According to various estimates, the United States has lost as much as 20% of the foreign tourists that were visiting our country each year prior to September 11.

That decline has cost us tens of billions of dollars in economic income, nearly similar amounts in taxes, and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

And how would such advertising increase our incoming tourism? Surely, foreigners are already aware of our nation's attractions and of how cheap it is for them to enjoy a stay; the weak U.S. dollar has made us into a staggering bargain. The reason they are not coming here is not a lack of marketing but because we have made the visit into a procedural nightmare.

To visit the U.S.A., most foreign citizens must apply for a visa, in person, at a U.S. consulate in their country, undergoing an interview by a consular official and sometimes traveling hundreds of miles to the consulate. Just to apply for such an interview often takes two months and the payment of $131 per visa, to be paid whether or not the visa is issued. If it is denied, you are out the $131.

In conducting the interview, some consular officials are more concerned with heading off illegal immigration than with thwarting terrorism. In Panama two months ago, I met an educated, English-speaking woman who has a fine job in a Latin American corporation. She has never been able to obtain a visa to visit her sister in California because she fits the profile -- young, single -- of a possible illegal immigrant.

Every month, one or another department in our government erects another barrier to incoming tourism, without consulting any other department having broader responsibilities. The recent increase in the visa fee to $131 was a typical misguided decision by someone in the State Department, who should have been reducing the fee rather than raising it. Not a single terrorist will be deterred by the extra $31 added to the former $100 fee.

This month, the Department of Homeland Security has confronted millions of Canadian motorists with the need to show a birth certificate in order to drive over the U.S./Canada border to go shopping. Not a single terrorist will be thwarted from entering by this need to obtain an easily forged document -- but millions of Canadians will decide that they can put off that shopping trip.

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security has required that even those foreigners who need not obtain visas (because they are in a "visa waiver" country) must provide the Department, 72 hours in advance of arrival, with a proposed itinerary for that trip. What will be done with that itinerary has never been explained, nor has anyone suggested that we have the manpower to check on whether foreigners adhere to their itineraries. After the foreigner provides this wholly absurd piece of paper, they then must be fingerprinted -- all ten digits -- upon clearing U.S. immigration at their arrival airport. Imagine how you would feel if you faced such procedures on a trip to London or Rome.

And I could go on and on. What's needed is not additional marketing dollars, but a dynamic official in our government appointed to a prominent position and given the responsibility of representing our touristic interests with respect to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. We need someone constantly questioning whether these random acts of nuisance by State Department and Homeland Security bureaucrats are unnecessarily harming our economic interests while creating no tools at all for combating terrorism.

No one in our government is presently performing that role as a champion of tourism. Instead, we are about to appropriate money to encourage foreigners to visit a country that is working hard to keep them out.

1 comment:

Sarita said...

This kind of stuff is exactly what makes me glad I don't live there anymore!