The welcome mat for visitors to the US from the 27 visa waiver countries just got pulled from under their feet as a consequence of a new bill signed into law by President Bush last Friday. Under the provisions of the new law “Western European business travelers will be forced to give 48-hours notice of their plans to visit the U.S” reports MSNBC. While the enaction of the law is not a surprise to the travel industry given that the bill was a consequence of a recommendation of the 9/11 commission, its real impact, when it kicks into effect, most likely will be an unpleasant surprise.
Designed to enhance security, it arguably will fall short considerably in that area but will almost certainly curb spontaneity in travel. The bureucrats who crafted this bill fail to address what happens when travel plans are changed at the last minude due to a variety of circumstances ranging from business needs to weather and aircraft problems.
By requiring “visitors from 22 western European countries — including the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — to be registered online 48 hours before departure for the U.S”, the government is, in effect, telling hundreds of thousands of visitors who pick up and go based on bargain fares, a cheap dollar and a host of other impulse driven decisions to not come to the US. Homeland Security believes the 48 hour window will allow it to filter out potential terrorists from the 27 countries many of whom have a large population of Muslims, some of whom may be disaffected. While it is hard to refute that notion entirely it is far easier to prove that erecting barriers only results in economic isolation. Already, residents of many countries including the 27 visa-waiver countries, are under the impression that visiting Fortress USA is far too onerous a task, a fact proven by declining growth in international visitor statistics.
In a post 9/11 era, the idea of questioning the security-only proponents within the government is a tough assignment but it is not clear that the steady drumbeat one hears from them has really enhanced security. Nobody, least of all the tourism industry, wants compromises in that area but the absence of terrorism for the past six years is certainly no vindication of the (sometimes draconian) measures; after all it took more than eight years for the terrorists to strike between the first and second world trade center attacks at a time when virtually no one was focussing on guarding the homeland. Legislation that does not adequately take into consideration all facets of the US economy ill serves the industry and the country.