Ten Dollars For Tourists

Last week President Obama signed into law, The Travel Promotion Act, legislation that creates the United States' first national travel promotion program. Costs for the program, which would create a nonprofit corporation, would be divided equally between the government and private industry, with Washington contributing up to $100 million a year. The funding would come from a $10 fee levied on travelers from the 35 countries, mostly in Europe, participating in a visa waiver program. Visitors from Canada and Mexico would not have to pay the $10 fee. The nonprofit corporation (not named yet) would promote the United States as a travel destination and explain travel and security policies to international visitors. Simply put, a giant PR firm for tourism. Visitors from countries included in the Visa Waiver Program will partially fund the public-private organization. These visitors will pay the $10 fee every two years when they register online using the Department of Homeland Security's Electronic System for Travel Authorization. “The rest of the funding will come through a matching program of up to $100 million in private sector contributions. If the corporation is able to raise the projected $200 million annually, the organization would be the largest national tourism communications program in the world,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. Since most countries most countries charge $25 to $50 in exit and entry fees and that $10 is insignificant compared to the average $130 cost of obtaining a visa. “The fee,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., won't "deter or diminish the appetite of those who want to come here." The reason for creating the PR firm is because The U.S. Travel Association, in a report compiled with consulting firm ,Oxford Economics, pointed out that while “worldwide international tourist arrivals jumped from 682 million in 2000 to 880 million in 2009, arrivals in the United States declined, from 25.9 million to 23.5 million, in that period.” Visits from Canada and Mexico are not included in those totals. National tourism organizations in countries including Greece, Australia and Mexico each spent more than $100 million on tourism marketing in 2005, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization. The United States spent about $6 million the same year -- the last year for which figures are available. According to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce., despite strong global growth in long-haul international travel between 2000 and 2008, the U.S. welcomed 633,000 fewer overseas visitors in 2008 than it did in 2000.The study by Oxford Economics also showed that the additional PR would attract 1.6 million additional foreign visitors annually, pumping $4 billion into the economy each year and create about 40,000 new U.S. jobs. The average foreign tourist on a U.S. trip spends $5,000 according to Geoff Freeman, senior vice president of public affairs for the U.S. Travel Association. Sen. Byron Dorgan, (D-N.D.) and another chief sponsor, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, (D-Minn), cited figures showing that the average overseas visitor to the United States spends $4,500 on their trip. Now that I have thrown all these numbers at you (and my friend Linda’s eyes are rolling backwards and she is spitting up green-pea soup), let’s analyze them to see if they make sense. First, if the average tourist visa costs $130/person in other countries, why are we only charging $10? The United States is the greatest country in the world; proven by the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants every year who flood over our borders. If we are going to charge this fee at least make significant and not embarrassingly low. Second, if we are such a fabulous country, why would we have to do PR to promote ourselves? Doesn’t everybody in the world already know how extraordinary America is? Mounting a publicity campaign to promote tourism to America would be like George Clooney hiring a publicist to confirm he is good looking. Third, the numbers of potential money being pumped into the economy make no sense! The study indicates 1.6 million new visitors. Oxford Economics says the average amount spent by a foreign visitor is $5,000 and the two U.S. Senators say $4,500. If you multiply the number of visitors expected to be influenced by the PR campaign by the average spending per visitor you get estimates of between $7 and $8 billion “pumped into the economy.” But the study says $4 billion. So which number do we believe? Potential visitors or potential spending?As Judge Judy always says to litigants if the story does not make sense, then it is not true. The numbers don’t make sense here, so I wonder what the real story is. Unless I am appointed CEO of the new Tourism PR firm, I am going to keep asking questions!
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Obama Photo By: RD/Dziekan/Retna