Rant: US Tourism strategy is FUBAR.
Here’s the US tourism strategy in summary: let’s tax Europeans–who will just end up levying a retaliatory tax–to attract Chinese–who already want to come but suffer visa restrictions and strict requirements to do so.
I just wanted to mouth off about the recently passed and soon to be implemented Travel Promotion Act of 2010. Industry lobbyist Roger Dow of US Travel Association makes the case for this Act in HuffPo:
The bill is called the Travel Promotion Act, and it was enacted with strong, bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate (78-18) and is on its way to the President for his signature. The Act establishes a new public-private partnership to promote the U.S. as a leading destination for international travelers and educate them about U.S. security procedures. This partnership will be funded by a modest $10 fee on overseas travelers who do not pay $131 for a U.S. visa and matched by the travel industry. …
When it comes to competing for international travelers, in many ways, the U.S. is playing catch up. Other countries have been quicker to recognize and support the role travel plays in their economies. The countries of the European Union, for example, spend a collective $800 million per year promoting travel to their countries. Mexico spends nearly $150 million annually; Australia over $113 million; Canada and China, about $60 million. The United States: $0.
While it may make sense to spend some money on tourism promotion, it’s not clear why we should tax visitors to pay for it. Let’s see. Each visitor spends about $4,000. So let’s tax people (and otherwise create administrative headaches) so they can enjoy the privilege of doing so. Here’s Gadling‘s blunt take:
Of course, because the new law does not require any U.S. taxpayer dollars, it was passed with bipartisan support. Apparently the stupidity of taxing visitors to the U.S. in order to encourage them to visit was lost on most of the U.S. Congress.
The European Union– no surprise– is displeased by the new legislation, and is considering retaliating against it by charging U.S. visitors to Europe a $10 fee.
Meanwhile, more Chinese go to Paris each year than to the entire United States. (source: some big shot quoted this at World Tourism Summit…need to get source).
Well, apparently (and I don’t have this confirmed in all cases) Chinese nationals need to come into a US Consulate or Embassy in China for an in-person interview before a visa can be aproved. Guess what? There are only 6 consulates in China: Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, Wuhan (source: US State Dept).
Well, this kinda sucks if you don’t live in one of these 6 cities. According to Wikipedia, there are 160 cities in China with population over 1 mm. Let me offer a few examples of how ridiculous this is. For example, if you are one of the 32 million people in the Chongqing municipality, you have to travel the 350+ km to Chengdu for your visa interview. If you are one of the 11.9 million people in the Tianjin municipality, take the new CRH high speed train from Tianjin to Beijing for your visa interview. Ditto for the other 152 1 million+ population cities in China.
But instead of really helping tap into latent tourism demand from countries like China by either easing visa restrictions or opening up more consulates, let’s tax the Europeans (and other visa-waiver countries) $14 a person.
Do you know any US visa horror stories from your Chinese friends? Any consular interviews leave a bad impression on prospective visitors with a Chinese passport? What are the problems Chinese people are facing coming to the US?
And can you think of how taxing Europeans $14 a head will help overcome these problems?
I actually think the $14 is better than doing nothing — but let’s solve some real problems to get the Chinese (and the rest of the world who currently need a visa) to come to to the great US and A and spend some money in doing so!