After a long period of apparent inactivity, the federal government is taking steps to implement the Travel Promotion Act, the new law that sets up a public-private corporation to promote the U.S. as a destination to foreign travelers.
Funding is to come, in part, from a $10 fee on foreign visitors that has yet to be implemented, but Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security unit that is managing the process, finally addressed that issue last week by setting Sept. 8 as the effective date.
The fee will be imposed only on foreign visitors from Visa Waiver countries who use the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. Currently, travelers from those countries are required to log on to a secure U.S. government ESTA website, enter their passport information and expected itinerary and wait for an electronic authorization, which is good for multiple entries for two years.
In addition to the $10 fee, the Travel Promotion Act allows the government to add a cost-recovery fee for running ESTA, which Customs will set at $4, making a $14 total.
The ESTA sites, which operate in several languages, will accept only credit and debit cards issued by Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover.
As a procedural matter, the fee and effective date were published in the federal register as an "interim final rule" subject to public comments, which can be filed through Oct. 8. Comments can be filed online at www.regulations.gov, referencing docket number USCBP-2010-0025.
The new tourism promotion entity, the Corporation for Travel Promotion, will be funded in equal part by the revenue from the fee and by funds and goods and services contributed by the industry.
The corporation will have an 11-member board, and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke recently said the vetting process is nearly over and that he will likely make the appointments by the end of summer.
When it is finally up and running, the corporation is expected to have access to a budget of up to $200 million a year, depending on the level of matching industry contributions.
It will have a twofold mandate: distributing official information overseas on U.S. entry policies and advertising the U.S. as a destination in foreign countries to consumers and travel professionals, using print and electronic media, trade show participation and other tactics.
This report appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of Travel Weekly.