U.S. Pushes for Foreign Tourist $$

Complain as we might about busloads of foreign tourists swooping down on already busy slopes and national parks, international tourism has taken a heavy post-9/11 hit across the nation. A 2006 study conducted for the state tourism office revealed that spending by foreign visitors fell $18 billion from 2000 to 2003 in Colorado.

Now, a motley crew of senators are proposing to establish a public-private partnership to promote the U.S. as a travel destination, according to an AP report. The implications of reduced tourism on the nation’s economy are stark:

Geoff Freeman, executive director of the Discover America Partnership, a business group working to improve the U.S. image, said 70 percent of foreign visitors have a great experience once they get beyond the airport. At a time when many in the world have negative feelings about the United States, 74 percent return from visits with favorable views.

“Unfortunately the first three hours” _ trying to get through customs _ “is creating a poor impression and becoming a great barrier to coming,” Freeman said. European papers are “filled with horror stories about why you don’t want to come to the U.S.”

Entry problems are hardly confined to tourists. Investors from countries such as Brazil or India, where it can take months to get a visa, may take their business elsewhere. People willing to pay considerable amounts to study in the United States or receive medical treatment here may consider other options.

Funding for the partnership would come from corporate sponsors and a $10 tax on visitors from one of the 27 countries on a US visa waiver program. 

Co-sponsors of S. 1661 range from liberal nor’easter Sen. John Kerry to Alaska’s right wing Sen. Ted Stevens of “Bridge to Nowhere” fame. Stevens, who is the ranking minority member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, worked with bill sponsor Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, which is not typically known as a hot spot for tourism, to push the bill through.

There are no Colorado bill co-sponsors to date.