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Guess Who's Not Coming to America?

Carol Sottili

With the dollar being not so strong against the Euro and the British Pound, among others, you'd think that foreign visitors would be flocking to the United States.

You'd be wrong.

According to statistics from the Travel Industry Association (TIA) and the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, there were two million fewer overseas visitors in 2007 than in 2000, and that's cost an estimated $137 billion loss to the U.S. economy.

Take a closer look at the stats, and you'll notice that foreign visits and spending bottomed out in 2003, an obvious post-9/11 response. Since then, the numbers have been creeping up: In 2007, nearly 24 million overseas travelers came to the United States, an increase of 5 million from the 2003 low point, but fewer than the 26 million who visited in 2000. The TIA stats maintain that, had the trend continued, 33 million should be visiting by now. Overseas visitors are spending at record levels: more than $96 million in 2007. But again, the TIA says that amount would be far greater if more overseas visitors were coming to our shores.

The cause? Sept. 11 can't be entirely blamed for the trend, the TIA says. Bad publicity about our strict entry procedures is having a chilling effect, and the United States is not doing enough to counteract the bad rap. Enter the Travel Promotion Act, which is now before Congress. It would create a $200 million annual marketing campaign to persuade overseas visitors that the United States is a great destination.

Half of the funding would come from a $10 fee that would be imposed via airline tickets on foreign visitors who can visit without obtaining a visa (the rest of the funding would come from private sources, plus a $10 million loan from the U.S. Treasury).

Not surprisingly, the bill has pitted the TIA, cruise lines, hotels, etc., against the airlines, who maintain they are already collecting enough money from passengers. (Obama, by the way, is for the bill, while McCain is not).

What do you think? Should the United States be doing more to promote travel here? Is collecting the money from foreign visitors the way to go?

By Carol Sottili |  July 15, 2008; 7:19 AM ET  | Category:  Carol Sottili
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Read Andrea's blog entry from yesterday and you will have your answer why foreign visitors are not coming to visit here.

We're a nation that has become entrenched in idiotic bureaucracy in the name of "security".

Posted by: M Street | July 15, 2008 9:44 AM

Not to mention:

When you go to Europe, you can hop on a train and get to almost any destination. Our rail system is horrible by comparison. Why should they come here when it's hard to travel around the country when they can simply get themselves a Eurail pass and affordably go from country to country?

Posted by: Chasmosaur | July 15, 2008 10:40 AM

But half of those 24 million are definitely finding their way to Century 21 in lower Manhattan!

Posted by: BxNY | July 15, 2008 10:43 AM

Yep, foreign visitors are definitely coming to Boston! I'm curious to know if there are certain destinations (or airports) within the US that people are staying away from?

Posted by: boston liz | July 15, 2008 11:13 AM

We should promote the US but not charge those we are promoting to. That is just crazy. Here, visit us, and btw, give us $10 to cover our efforts to get you here. How stupid. Travelers are not coming to the US because of US Customs and Immigration and TSA. Anyone who has traveled abroad lately can tell you that coming back in to the US is a complete hassle.

Posted by: D | July 15, 2008 11:27 AM

if 2 million fewer visitors cost the economy a $137 billion loss, that works to $68,000 per visitor, on average. Either somebody is manipulating the numbers to push a cause, or I am out of touch with reality and there really are throngs of very rich people snubbing the US (or someone's math is just not WaPo worthy)

Posted by: asiagoSF | July 15, 2008 11:43 AM

It's not just the two million fewer visitors in 2007 than in 2000 that has created the $137 billion loss. It's the cumulative effect. As stated later in the blog, in 2007, nearly 24 million overseas travelers came to the United States, an increase of 5 million from the 2003 low point, but fewer than the 26 million who visited in 2000. The TIA stats maintain that, had the trend continued, 33 million should be visiting annually by now.
And, I should add, I did not do a mathmatical analysis of the organization's stats.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 15, 2008 12:10 PM

Re: the fee to enter the US without a visa. One of the things I learned in both public financial economics and nonprofit accounting way back in grad school is how does a public agency handle user fees. In this case, is a Federal agency charging a user fee to offset a particular cost to operate a service? If so, what is that cost, and what service is being provided to the visitor? I concur with some posters that the airlines are already grabbing lots of fees, but that's for operating their planes. That said, however, I feel that in setting fares, the airlines should already include cost components such as jet fuel and labor costs into their fares.

Posted by: Shep C. Willner | July 15, 2008 1:51 PM

A shiny new PR campaign would be lipstick on a pig. Foreign tourists aren't coming here as much because, compared to other potential First World destinations:

1. the US is a dangerous country, with a vastly higher murder rate

2. our entry process is hostile (we fingerprint you, we hassle you, we assume you're a terrorist until you prove otherwise)

2a. we reserve the right to declare any foreigner an enemy conbatant and literally lock them up and throw away the key -- who wants to take a chance on that?

3. alot of people don't like us, which is what happens when you invade first and ask questions later

4. our infrastructure is subpar -- as others have noted, we have no viable intercity rail, plus our airports are pretty crummy and our highways are clogged with traffic

5. and with the development of so many other parts of the globe, we're not as special as we used to be. Want gleaming skyscrapers? Go to China. Want beautiful beaches? Go to the Indian Ocean. Want spectacular nature? Go to Africa. Foreigners don't go to America as much anymore for the same reason Americans don't go to, say, Minneapolis or Houston. They're perfectly competent places but nothing special.

Posted by: Andy | July 15, 2008 3:04 PM

A $200 million annual marketing campaign to persuade overseas visitors that the United States is a great destination? It might be better to spend our energies on actually making the United States is a great destination and a welcoming place for foreign visitors.

Posted by: hunker | July 15, 2008 4:48 PM

Have somebody of you ever had to enter the States as a foreigner. I did it (I'm German, white, in the 60th). I will not do that ever again. I used to live in the States for about 3 yrs (bevore 9/11) and it was not a perfect, but an acceptable entry procedure.
Now it is just and plain unbearable.

We (my wife and me) have been treated like prisoners (you stand in line, Sir, and talk only when asked !) and I remeber that poor asian family who was not able to keep the kids perfect in line.

Then photographing, fingerprinting, asking questions....

And when you only transfer through an airport as we did (to Mexico), then you have to enter and leave the country. The fact that there should be abbreviated procedures for that case was unfortunately not known by the officers.

USA: no thanks, not once more
US-airlines: as they go through US-hubs, no thanks not once more. I will happily pay some more money in order to not be humiliated just to get to an vacation place.

Posted by: Oppenweiler | July 16, 2008 6:03 AM

Every time I turn my TV on I see an ad to go visit Australia, Ireland, Turkey and other countries. The U.S. should absolutely do the same thing. Not to mention, we fund those marketing efforts by other countries when we pay fees to go in and out of their borders. Why shouldn't visitors here do the same thing? This is a no-brainer to me.

Posted by: Jack | July 16, 2008 1:40 PM

I have already seen everything I want to see here. My first 20 adult years were spent traveling domestically. These current 20 years are for international travel destinations. The next 20, maybe outer space!

Posted by: Big time solo traveller | July 16, 2008 7:57 PM

As an Australian citizen I have been to the US several times in the past and have found the Immigration queues impossible. Since 9/11 I have been put off by the horror stories of longer queues, grumpy agents and all the new ID procedures. Depsite your dollar being at a 25 year low compared to our currency, I'd rather go to Europe as it's much easier to enter, transit and move about, plus the border staff in Europe actually smile!!

Posted by: Stephen Williams | July 16, 2008 10:20 PM

We definitely should streamline security and make it much more friendly and quick.

But...higher energy prices have not just hit the US, it's global.

We should not advertise or market, at least not yet. We're blessed with some of the most scenic and unique spots on the planet (which we should take care of). Adding fees is not necessary.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 19, 2008 6:39 PM

Note to foreign tourists: Our country is at war.

Please forgive us for all the inconveniences this may entail.

Posted by: E | July 21, 2008 10:31 AM

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