U.S. is most unfriendly country to visitors, survey says
1 hour, 19 minutes ago
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Rude immigration officials and visa delays keep millions of foreign visitors away from the United States, hurt the country's already battered image, and cost the U.S. billions of dollars in lost revenue, according to an advocacy group formed to push for a better system.
To drive home the point, the Discover America Partnership released the result of a global survey on Monday which showed that international travelers see the United States as the world's worst country in terms of getting a visa and, once you have it, making your way past rude immigration officials.
The survey, of 2,011 international travelers in 16 countries, was conducted by RT Strategies, a Virginia-based polling firm, for the Discover America Partnership, a group launched in September with multimillion-dollar backing from a range of companies that include the InterContinental Hotels Group, Anheuser Busch and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
The survey showed that the United States was ranked "the worst" in terms of visas and immigration procedures by twice the percentage of travelers as the next destination regarded as unfriendly -- the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent.
More than half of the travelers surveyed said U.S. immigration officials were rude and two-thirds said they feared they would be detained on arriving in the United States for a simple mistake in their paperwork or for saying the wrong thing to an immigration official.
The survey was taken between October 25 and November 9 against the backdrop of growing concern in parts of the U.S. business community over a steady decline in the number of foreigners visiting the United States.
"Between 2000 and 2006, the number of overseas visitors, excluding those from Mexico and Canada, has declined by 17 percent," said Geoff Freeman, executive director of the Discover America Partnership, "and business travel in that period has dropped 10 percent."
Travel Industry Association statistics show that the U.S. share in world tourism declined from 7.4 percent in 2000 to 6 percent last year. A one-percentage point increase, according to the association, would mean 7.5 million additional arrivals, $12.3 billion in additional spending, 150,000 additional U.S. jobs, $3.3 billion in additional payroll and $2.1. billion in additional taxes.
With about 50 million visitors a year, the United States is the world's third most-popular destination, after Spain and France.
"The problem is that since September 11, this country has viewed visitors more as a threat than an opportunity," Freeman said. "The entry process has created a climate of fear and frustration that is keeping foreign visitors away."
"Unless Congress understands there is a problem, nothing will be done ... though it wouldn't take much to make a change," Freeman said.