Every now and then I really wish that government was as polarized and incompetent as everyone seems to suggest. At least then they wouldn’t be able to cooperate and put together such a ridiculous effort as they did with S. 1023, the “Travel Promotion Act.” And the House has a similar enough bill ready to go. This one is going to become a law for real, and it sucks.
The concept is almost laudable. They want to promote the USA as a travel destination in the global market and such promotion requires money. And how best to get said money? Charge the people who are visiting, of course. In a move that seems to defy most logic I’ve considered the US government has decided to levy a $10 fee against every visitor who fills out an ETSA form – the required authorization for non-residents from our closest allies to visit the USA. Having to fill out such a form was bad enough. Having to pay for it just sucks. It is, essentially, the end of the free visa experience for visitors to the USA. Now everyone has to pay. Sure, is it “only $10” for many folks rather than $131, but it is still a ridiculous concept.
To make matters worse, there are some folks who seem to think that this actually makes us look good in the global market:
“The United States Senate today took a giant step toward regaining America’s position as the premier travel destination and strengthening our struggling economy,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Nearly every company, city, state and developed nation understands the power of promotion. By getting in the global game, America will create tens of thousands of new jobs and strengthen its image in the world as visitors leave with an improved perception of our country and her people.”
It is going to be very hard for people to leave with an improved perception of the USA if they don’t show up because we’re now charging admission at the door.
The bill was sponsored by a Senator from Nevada. Sure, they know a thing or two about self-promotion and advertising there.
I am obviously from a tourist-driven State. We spend a lot of money advertising, whether it is Las Vegas, Reno or Lake Tahoe, we spend a lot of money advertising to other places, including internationally. Nevada does a lot of advertising. The Las Vegas Convention Authority and private businesses advertise because it works.
What we are saying in this bill is, let’s do it as a country. Let us show how many amazing places there are to see. Let’s tell the rest of the world about it.
The United States has some amazing places to see. If we tell people about it, they will come in greater numbers. The studies are fairly significant on this. If you spend money to bring people, they will come. And when they come, they will bring their money.
But he forgets that there is is actually all paid for by the companies that are going to reap the windfall. Here we’re essentially taxing our visitors to fund the advertising coffers of big business. Why can’t they simply spend the money themselves? After all major cities (the ones he cites elsewhere in his testimony) have been been doing this for years. There’s another great bit of logic in his testimony:
In 1996, we eliminated a Federal program that was basically about promoting travel to the United States. We have had private programs and we have had public programs. None of them worked very well on their own–privately, because they couldn’t get the funding necessary; on a public side, it was because the government doesn’t run those things very well.
This is a public-private partnership that I believe can work. That is the reason I support this. It is the reason I think a public-private partnership, where some of the public funding is matched with private expertise, can bring more tourists to the United States.
So the problem was the money. And that is easy enough to fix when you simply take it from folks who don’t have much of a say in the matter, right? Or they can just skip their visits here and go somewhere they are welcomed with open arms, not a cash register.
It is going to hurt Americans. It hurts us because now the other countries – our closest allies in most cases – are now going to retaliate. They don’t have to, but they will. So now when we travel it costs more. I guess that doesn’t affect everyone since most Americans don’t even have passports, but it still sucks. Moreover, it is just one more disincentive to potential visitors. Now they get to warn the governments in advance that they will be visiting, be fingerprinted like a criminal when they arrive on our soil and they get to pay $10 for that luxury.
What is particularly entertaining about this (in a sad and pathetic way) is that history is repeating itself. Just over 80 years ago the USA reached an agreement with France to remove a $10 fee for visitors (though $10 was a LOT more money in 1929):
Foreign News: Visa Fees
Monday, May. 27, 1929
Each U. S. citizen going to France this summer will save $8—the price of three good dinners or 33 martini cocktails—through an agreement signed last week by the U. S. State Department and representatives of the French Government. Reciprocally, the price of French and U. S. visas has been reduced from $10 to $2.
The $10 visa fee, bane of U. S. travelers abroad, started in 1920 when U. S. consuls were instructed to collect $9, plus $1 for executing the application, from each and every foreigner who wanted a passport visaed. Delighted at finding a new source of revenue, several foreign governments instantly retaliated, charged all U. S. tourists $10 each.
Finding that U. S. citizens were spending millions on foreign visas — while little money was accruing from foreign tourists in the U. S. — the State Department started negotiations in 1925 to abolish or reduce the $10 charge. France last week was the 29th nation to comply.
I don’t know why they think it will be any different this time around.
So, yes, I hate my government right now. I hate that they are so short-sighted and that they don’t seem to understand the retaliatory effects this will have. I hate that they don’t see how much money it is going to cost American citizens – the same ones they claim they are trying to help. I hate that when I called my Senators yesterday to voice my concerns one aide didn’t know the Senator’s position (after he had already voted, it turns out) and the other simply left their phone off the hook so I could not call in.
I really wonder where I can expatriate to reasonably quickly and easily. I’m sick of this crap.
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