Travelmole has an oft repeated story in the travel press that seems to have done little to curb the unbridled growth of bureaucratic barriers to foreign visitation.
Travelmole’s headline “Visitor numbers to US remain stagnant” says it all. The article notes how “post 9-11 security problems, lower airfares elsewhere and poor marketing by the US all add up to America’s losing out in the world travel market”. And the ever-weakening US dollar has done little to offset that. Another quote from the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization says “the United States had 51 million international visitors in 2000, more than 7% of the 682 million international arrivals worldwide. But as those travelers jumped to 846 million in 2006, the US saw roughly the same number of visitors as it used to — dropping its share to 6 percent. Major destinations such as Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, Miami, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Boston all saw 20% to 34% fewer travelers in 2006 compared with 2000”. Only New York City bucked the trend with a 9%increase to 6.2 million arrivals in 2006 as compared to 2000.
Roger Dow, president of the Travel Industry Association, is unambiguous (and unsubtle) in his explanation for the US ‘s decline in share of world tourism saying “the perception of nasty US attitudes toward foreigners starting at customs” is at fault. Any American returning from a trip abroad who spares a moment to look at the process for foreigners entering the US can easily empathize – a combination of a fingerprint system (that frequently does not work with the “dry” fingers of older folks) to surly attitudes results in perennially long lines. In contrast, the European union does not even require an “arrival card” much less subjecting tourist to an arguably demeaning process of fingerprinting.
Travelmole’s article notes that “Top destination cities are spending millions to promote themselves abroad and often compete with one another for foreign visitors, meaning less-obvious destinations with smaller marketing budgets have trouble being heard”. The US instead is spending more money on more restrictive process such as ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), fingerprinting all ten fingers of arriving and departing international visitors.