The Travel Promotion Act Makes Travel More Difficult

You’ll hear lots of fanfare around the Travel Promotion Act these days, but you certainly won’t hear it from me. In fact, I think it’s time for a rant. The Act looks like it’s on its way to sailing through Congress, and in my opinion, it will simply be yet another deterrent for visitors to the US. I was a guest on the Airplane Geeks podcast again this week, and we talked about it. Afterward, I decided to read up on it further and I don’t feel any better about it.

Roger Dow, President and CEO of the US Travel Association says, “the United States must invest in better explaining its security policies and attracting foreign travelers.” Yeah, right. What exactly is it about our unfriendly policies that we want to be better at communicating? If we actually changed our policies to be more welcoming, maybe it would be worth talking about.

You can read the full text of the Senate’s version of the act here. The idea is to create a non-profit corporation to promote US travel to foreign visitors. This corporation would be overseen by a board of directors built from the travel industry. What will this corporation do? Here’s what it will be generally responsible for.

  • . . . provide useful information to foreign tourists, business people, students, scholars, scientists, and others interested in traveling to the United States, including the distribution of material provided by the Federal government concerning entry requirements, required documentation, fees, processes, and information concerning declared public health emergencies, to prospective travelers, travel agents, tour operators, meeting planners, foreign governments, travel media and other international stakeholders

  • . . . identify, counter, and correct misperceptions regarding United States entry policies around the world

  • . . . maximize the economic and diplomatic benefits of travel to the United States by promoting the United States of America to world travelers through the use of, but not limited to, all forms of advertising, outreach to trade shows, and other appropriate promotional activities

  • . . . ensure that international travel benefits all States and the District of Columbia and to identify opportunities and strategies to promote tourism to rural and urban areas equally, including areas not traditionally visited by international travelers

  • . . . give priority to the Corporation’s efforts with respect to countries and populations most likely to travel to the United States

Assuming you didn’t fall asleep before finishing that, you’re probably scratching your head just like I was. Do we really need to tell people to come visit the US? Isn’t that going to be top of mind for many people anyway? I mean, I can understand why Zimbabwe might benefit from a campaign (hey, we only kill you if you own land – come visit!), but the US? And exactly what misperceptions will be dispelled about the entry procedures. Traveling to the US isn’t exactly the easiest thing around. Sometime tells me that most of things people hear aren’t misperceptions.

Most importantly, how are we funding this? Were this all a self-sustaining private fund, well, ok. By 2011, funds must come from the private sector, but those funds will be matched 1 to 1 with money from yet another visitor fee. Great.

That’s right. We are going to promote travel by slapping another fee on our visitors. Good thinking. This fee will only be charged to those visitors who don’t have to pay for the $100+ visa. That means that only the visitors from countries where we actually have a lot of visitors (hence, the Visa Waiver Program) will pay.

The Visa Waiver Program is in effect for most of Western Europe, Australia, Brunei, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea. Those from Belgium, Andorra, Brunei, Liechtenstein, and Slovenia must have machine-readable passports. Oh, and those from the UK must have passports specifically notated with “British Citizens” or “with unrestricted right of abode in the United Kingdom” to be allowed. If you qualify, you must use the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) system to gain approval once every two years. It’s when you get that ESTA approval that you will have to pay $10 for travel promotion.

Remember, we make things easy here in the US. I’m so glad we’ll be able to tell the world all about it.

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