LA Times correspondent Eric Lucas has an article headlined “Tourists need not apply” that explores an oft heard theme outside the US – Fortress USA. Lucas writes that “Travel is booming worldwide — except in the United States. And that woman’s experience represents just one reason why”. The woman he refers to lives in Belize with a daughter in LA who she would like to visit but for the daunting prospect of a trip to the US embassy and the cost of a visa ($100 – whether accepted or not).
The LA Times story records how “Overseas arrivals to the U.S. have declined 11% this decade, to 23 million in 2007 from 26 million in 2000. Travel is the world’s largest industry, currently worth $5 trillion, and it is growing 6% a year. It employs almost a quarter of a billion people. And yet the U.S. is missing out on this wonderful human commerce”.
Lucas’ story has a personal element to it as he writes of how “A colleague of mine has a business in Brazil, and one of his investors conceived the idea of taking his family to Walt Disney World. This wealthy businessman, who could buy a whole hotel in the U.S., never mind hotel rooms, flew to Sao Paulo, paid $500 ($100 a person) to apply for a visa, and patiently spent an hour answering questions. Two weeks later he was turned down. The letter suggested that he reapply ($500 more, please!) but, surprise, he took his family to Europe. Brazilians don’t need visas to enter the EU”.
At a professional level too, the US does not make its presence felt. Major tourism shows that US companies routinely fail to show up include the Arabian Travel Market, Singapore’s ITB-Asia. Both markets represent a wealth of potential tourists to the US. The situation is not much better for World Travel Fair in Shanghai that starts within a month. There is only one exhibitor from the US. Clearly the US is losing out and fast both in terms of dollars and goodwill.