Airport entry still a hassle for foreign visitors, says U.S. Travel

By Bill Poling
The U.S. is still handicapping its tourism industry with airport customs and entry procedures that continue to deter foreign visitors, according to new data from the U.S. Travel Association.

A survey by Consensus Research Group found that one in three travelers thought that the U.S. is “falling behind other countries” in terms of airport entry procedures or was the “worst” they have ever seen.

Forty-four percent of potential business travelers said they will not visit the U.S. within the next five years, based on their “experience or perceptions of the U.S. immigration and customs process.”

Also, 43% of travelers who visited the U.S. in the last five years tell their friends and relatives to avoid the U.S. because of the entry process.

According to U.S. Travel, foreign travelers share their opinions with an average of eight other individuals.

U.S. Travel president Roger Dow and executive vice president Geoff Freeman told reporters during a conference call on Tuesday that this adds up to as many as 100 million direct and indirect negative impressions.

If that many potential visitors stayed away, the result would be $95 billion in lost traveler spending.

U.S. Travel is urging Congress and the White House to recognize the problem by increasing staffing levels for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at major airports and setting a goal of keeping wait times to 30 minutes or less for arriving international passengers.

U.S. Travel also said CBP should be more transparent about wait times and produce airport-specific data for the travel industry and consumers.

As it stands today, Freeman said the industry has only anecdotal information, adding that there have been reports of wait times of two to three hours at some U.S. airports, and that was before the sequester triggered spending cuts across the federal government.

Freeman said an investment of $150 million for 1,000 additional customs inspectors would easily pay for itself by facilitating billions in new traveler spending.

The Consensus Research Group survey involved 1,200 persons in the U.K., France, Germany, Japan, China and Brazil.
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