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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36 Comments on "The Travel Promotion Act Makes Travel More Difficult"

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David
Guest
I live in the UK and am eligible for the Visa Waiver Programme. This new scheme looks like the USA is in effect re-imposing a visa requirement on me. I have to register on a website in advance… I have to provide personal information and I have to pay a fee. Looks like a visa, smells like a visa, feels like a visa, costs like a visa, but it’s not called a visa ! Thus, for people from rich countries, you need a visa which is fairly easy to obtain, while for people from poor countries, you need a visa… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

This country was started by accepting people from anywhere who wanted to live in the ‘land of the free’. Since a certain ex-President was in office our motto is ‘don’t come here and if you must, we’re going to make it hard for you to do so. But we want easy access to your country.’

I bet it was easier to get into Russia during the cold war then it is to get into the USA now.

Frank V
Guest

As long as the minimum wage wannabes in the TSA harass airline passengers with their chants of “do you want to fly today” and continue with their secret security protocols and their virtual strip search machines — all the while ignoring the legitimate security concerns — then even US citizens would rather drive than fly. There is little hope for encouraging foreign visitors so long as every paying airline passenger is viewed as a criminal/terrorist until proven otherwise.

A
Guest

In defense of the US customs and immigration folks. My spouse is from Canada so we do a lot of traveling up there. Without exception getting into Canada is always more difficult than getting into the states. Soon as they see a couple with passports from different countries the questions start in. Our least favorite part about visiting family by far.

James Van Dellen
Guest
We’re all accustomed to the varying professionalism of the TSA when flying domestically, but I’m always disappointed at the “welcome” foreign visitors receive upon arrival, and what they must think. I flew into IAD this past Saturday morning from South America. 6:30am, and immigration officials were literally yelling at the passengers to prep their paperwork, where to go, and what generalities that most travelers already know. Not directing, but yelling. Meanwhile I’m stuffing my flash drives into my shoe knowing my laptop could be confiscated for who knows how long. (I do this regularly, myself expecting to be treated like… Read more »
robert
Guest
I agree with James. I fly to the USA frequently and the immigration officials are the most unfriendly I’ve come acress (ironic as immediately outside of the airport, you meet ‘real’ americans who have always been incredibly welcoming and friendly). I’ve seen how, when a new line is formed at the immigration booths, officials don’t ask visitors if they’d like to move but shout at them to do so. I can think of only one occasion over the past ten years that an immigration official has smiled. Of course, this is on top of the absurdity of having to provide… Read more »
MathFox
Guest

David SFeastbay wrote:

I bet it was easier to get into Russia during the cold war then it is to get into the USA now.

Well, at least they didn’t take fingerprints at the border…

I agree with the general sentiment that improving the experience would be far more beneficial than boasting in front of the whole world about how bad you’re doing.

jim sack
Member

I will guess that these board members will be multi-lingual, sensitive to other cultures, be open to the comments of our foreign friends and do more than warm a seat on a paying board. I would classify this a ludicrous.

The Traveling Optimist
Guest
Best experience I ever had crossing a border was Switzerland. The officer looked at my passport, shrugged and waved me through. I had to ask for the stamp (a collector). Longest hassle = Egypt. The line, the conditions, the multi-step process to buy the visa before showing the passport, etc…ugh. Slowest immigrations = Hong Kong. Thorough and methodical, matching data phonetically and mentally translating to Cantonese. Rudest immigrations = Brisbane. I had an old and worn passport and was treated just short of a criminal. Friendlies = New Zealand and yes, the good ol’ US of A. I’ve never had… Read more »
daren_siddall
Member

As a Brit who has travelled regularly to the US over the past 25 years I can only concur with the comments above, going through US immigration is a thoroughly unpleasant experience and seems to get worse year by year. I simply don’t understand how communicating anything better would improve that experience.

AStabAtEmpathy
Guest
It’s a tax, simple as that. Left unchecked, government will continue to grow and create new revenues for itself to feed more bureaucracy (boards, things for it to do (“promote travel”)). Domestically, that tendency is held in check by citizens pushing back against higher taxes (I’m not against taxes, mind you, no card carrying member of the tea party, but just mean to note that an equilibrium resulting from the push/shove between government and its citizens is a good thing). Foreigners have no lobby, so taxing them is easy – they can’t push back. All they can do is stay… Read more »
newkidtown
Member

It’s idiotic. I already wrote to my senators.

David SF eastbay
Member

The Traveling Optimist wrote:

Best experience I ever had crossing a border was Switzerland. The officer looked at my passport, shrugged and waved me through. I had to ask for the stamp (a collector).

How funny, many years ago I entered flew into Geneva and the man open my passport but I’m not sure if he even looked at it. The whole time he was up in his booth looking over my head scanning the crowd of people.

Nick Barnard
Member
James Van Dellen wrote: I flew into IAD this past Saturday morning from South America. 6:30am, and immigration officials were literally yelling at the passengers to prep their paperwork, where to go, and what generalities that most travelers already know. Not directing, but yelling. Hmm, I wonder if instead of this it would be worth it to actually invest in some prepared videos that politely explain how to do this. I’ve seen these in Vegas for the TSA gates and they’re slightly boring, but save the gov’t folks from having to say it over and over and over and over… Read more »
Alex
Guest
Worth noting that the ESTA authorisation last for a couple of years. Therefore, if thats when they plan on robbing you of $10, you should be able to complete ESTA before the charge comes into effect and not have to pay for a couple of years. Still pretty disgraceful, if i’m coming to the US to do business with one of your companies or to spend a couple of grand on vacation I don’t expect to be relieved of another $10 for the privilege. I know the EU has a penchant for petty revenge, how about a €10 douchebag tax… Read more »
Marty Near DFW
Guest

Unfortunately, this probably means that other governments will reciprocate, adding a level of difficulty for US Citizens to travel abroad. For an amusing read, find a Brazilian US Consulate website’s visa requirements. There’s a lot of ‘for everyone except US Citizens as that is what they require from Brasilian citizens.’

=M=

The Traveling Optimist
Guest
So far the one thing I’ve read that I actually like as an idea on this topic would be to have “boring” videos playing in several languages to explain what is required so overworked agents won’t have to yell to get the point across. It might also help if agents who spoke the most common foreign languages were hired as a “greeter” to work the lines before coming up to the window and being rejected cuz their paperwork wasn’t in order. Outside of that, international travel will continue so long as people of all nations wish to travel abroad for… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
Guest
An old example: Russia. When it was the USSR the cost of an entry visa was in the $150 range. Pure hard currency grab, nothing more than that. Wanna go bad enough? Pay up. Oh, don’t forget the formal invitation from some government agency or state tourist agency. Today? $130 for the same visa. Invitation still required from at least a registered hotel according to the visa service website I’ve investigated. Have I ever been to Russia? No, and that’s part of the reason why but it seems tourism to Russia has only gone up since the Wall came down.… Read more »
Marek
Guest
The Traveling Optimist says Friendlies = New Zealand and yes, the good ol’ US of A. I’ve never had a problem right here at home, long lines notwithstanding. Well, yes, I dare say it is if the US is home: US citizens’ experience is not the same as that of foreign visitors. I have two simple suggestions: 1. Appoint as directors of this new corporation people who are passionate about promoting the USA but who are citizens and residents of any country in the world except the US. Unless they share the experience of foreign visitors, they won’t understand it.… Read more »
BJ
Guest
I visited the US in late September. The ESTA process was easy and I had an approval within minutes. I entered through LAX and was actually pleasantly surprised with the friendliness we received from customs etc (I have had bad experiences before). The TSA in all airports (LAX/SFO/LAS) and terminals were great for our domestic flights – they were polite and efficient. I don’t wish to pay another tax on my ticket. The countries who have to pay the tax are the ones who are the ‘friendlies’ and don’t have many issues anyway. The screening/processing etc does not affect our… Read more »
Jason
Guest
In the bullet points Cranky, they forgot to mention the anger management courses that should be mandatory for all immigration, customs and TSA agents. They should spend the money on something wise like a study on the Japanese immigration. Tokyo were just outstanding with someone at the other end of security (on return flight) to collect and hand me my belongings after x-ray! Now that is how to welcome and goodbye a tourist. Nothing like an LAX welcome though at 7am by immigration after making your way through the burrow of a rancid terminal. I make a point of telling… Read more »
Kim
Guest
David wrote: I live in the UK and am eligible for the Visa Waiver Programme. This new scheme looks like the USA is in effect re-imposing a visa requirement on me. I have to register on a website in advance… I have to provide personal information and I have to pay a fee. Looks like a visa, smells like a visa, feels like a visa, costs like a visa, but it’s not called a visa ! Thus, for people from rich countries, you need a visa which is fairly easy to obtain, while for people from poor countries, you need… Read more »
jaybru
Member
Just some observations, from someone whose ancesters came to America in the 1700s, not under the best of circumstances, from a “foreign” country. This seems like a waste of money until we, us, change our ideas about the rest of the world. Foreigners probably already know much more about us that we care to admit. In so many ways, we are a very, very insular country, made up of people who are very suspicious of so many things foreign, not the least of whom..foreigners. Doesn’t it seem that today our biggest question about foreigners is: are they coming here/are they… Read more »
Alex C
Guest
The most idiotic thing about this is that before any of the funded programs can have any effect, it has already caused bad publicity around the world because this program is seen as being absurd and disgusting to the people who would be traveling. It’s like there’s an assumption that word of it would never reach the far reaches across the Atlantic… That said, US arrival fees are negligible compared with many other fees. $10 slapped on visits to promote travel is no less abhorrent than the departure fee that BAA slaps onto my Lufthansa ticket when leaving LHR, just… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
Guest
JayB – I believe our “ancestry” is similar but look a little farther than home. The fear of foreigners you describe is practically the same story all over the world. I did some further digging in to Russia, a country I have wanted to visit for better than 20+ years. The Trans Siberian Railway? Lake Baikal? The statue of Mother Russia just north of Volgograd (Stalingrad) much less St. Petersburg and Moscow. The list of things to see and do is as big as the country itself. What did I find? A travel article basically telling me and any other… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
Guest

Wrong Lennon. Make that Marxist/Lenin.

Carl
Guest
Cranky, I agree with you 100%. U.S. visa process and Customs & Immigration are like those of third world countries, and a disgrace – affecting both foreign visitors and U.S. residents coming home. For some reason this agency is never held accountable. Even U.S. law and due process don’t apply when you are in their domain. I know people who will not travel to USA because they have been harassed and treated rudely by Customs & Immigration. Rather than improving the Customs & Immigration experience, this proposal taxes visitors, sets up new complexity for “visa waiver” travelers, and sets up… Read more »
Gary Leff
Guest

We have always been at war with Eastasia.

MathFox
Guest

@ The Traveling Optimist:

someone please tell me if travel guides about the United States warn foreigners not to go out at night in major American cities! “Don’t go out at night on South Beach.” Right!

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs says (liberal translation):

Some parts of bigger cities are known unsafe. Ask for information in your hotel.

On the same page they have several warnings about the Department of Homeland Security; most importantly: “Joking at TSA checkpoints is best avoided. It may cause more trouble (arrest) than it is worth.”

jaybru
Member

The Traveling Optimist wrote:

JayB – I believe our “ancestry” is similar but look a little farther than home. The fear of foreigners you describe is practically the same story all over the world.

Your points certainly make sense. Travel our country and you will see some crazy things the way we look at each other and at those outsiders. Surprise, surprise, you’ll find much the same in other countries. Strange how we can so easily recognize hypocrisy in others, yet so difficult, in ourselves!

The Traveling Optimist
Guest
Math Fox – The Dutch Ministry highlights my point exactly. No where in the world should a foreign tourist venture in to the rougher areas of a city, certainly not without a knowledgeable and trustworthy escort. The underlying message here is for those who might still have a “land of milk and honey” vision of the US. It warns them NOT to believe that every street and neighborhood in the US is safe. Just as they would hardly enter “the ‘hood” in their own hometown they should exercise the same caution in the United States, nothing more than that. Fortunately… Read more »
MathFox
Guest

The Dutch ministerial rating system is meant to pinpoint countries that are dangerous (civil war situations and such). The US gets the rating “normally safe” (the best available rating, given to the majority of countries). However there are some differences between the US and the Netherlands and being aware of the risks that Dutchmen don’t know at home keeps them out of trouble. We don’t have that bad neighbourhoods that people are told to avoid visiting them.

The Traveling Optimist
Guest
I disagree. The Netherlands is no utopia, any more than any other developed country. My sister lives in the Hague; I’ve visited her often and she reports on neighborhoods there that are best left off the tourist itinerary. From Auckland to Amsterdam and Atlanta I’ve seen neighborhoods that, but for the language, are virtually interchangeable. Who goes to The Netherlands just to hang out on the piers of Rotterdam? Nobody. There’s nothing to see, no tourist sites and, like any dockyard around the world, is surrounded by rough territory. Amsterdam is a huge city and, like any large city, has… Read more »
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