News: Trips to the USA too much hassle for tourists?

The number of tourists visiting the USA from United Kingdom, Japan, Germany and France dropped 5% last year, a development that alarms the U.S. tourism industry...

According to USA Today, those four nations typically supply almost half of all the foreign tourists visiting the USA. New Commerce Department (NCD) figures show there were about 10 million visits to the USA last year from those four countries, 500,000 fewer than in 2005. The drop-off, the first decline for any of those countries since 2003, worries U.S. tourism leaders because overseas visits continue to lag behind pre-9/11 levels.

Jay Rasulo, chairman of the Travel Industry Association of America said:  “The decline underscores the need for the U.S. government to do a much better job of inviting people and welcoming visitors to the country". Despite the falloff in the biggest markets, international visits to the USA increased in 2006, mainly due to an influx of visitors from Canada and Mexico

Post 9/11 bureaucracy to blame?

According to NCD figures, visits from all other countries remain 17% below 2000 levels. Rasulo and others blame post-9/11 airport inspections and visa requirements, anti-American sentiment, a lack of national marketing efforts by the USA and tourist marketing by other countries.

Part of the downturn could possibly be attributed to the security scare in August 2006, which saw British authorities foil a plot to blow up airliners using liquid explosives.  In the aftermath, authorities in the USA and the U.K. temporarily banned all liquids and gels from carry-on bags.  Over six months later, irritated travelers are still restricted to small quantities of liquids in hand luggage.

This situation is a serious one for the US tourist industry, as overseas travelers are prized because they stay longer and spend more than domestic visitors. Bud Nocera, CEO of Visit Florida, the state tourism marketing agency revealed that the average British family stays in Florida for two weeks and spends $3,200, vs. one week and $1,900 for the average U.S. family.

USA missing out?

Foreign tourism experts say the USA is missing an opportunity to cash in at a time when currency exchange rates favor foreigners.  In response, The Travel Industry Association has been urging the U.S. Government to do a better job balancing security with hospitality. Travelers, Rasulo says, "don't understand why that process has to be rude and inefficient." Some in Congress are proposing ways to modify visa rules and other hassles foreigners face to enter the USA

"It seems the United States is putting too many obstacles for Europeans to visit the country," says Rudy Waiss, former president of the French chapter of the American Society of Travel Agents. "With the value of the dollar, you should have a great number of people going to spend weekends in New York and even the West Coast."

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