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Published on Thursday, October 5, 2006

US discouraging visitors with ‘half-open’ door policies

A record number of Americans went abroad last year, but the US government is not doing nearly enough to let it remain as a top international tourist destination, according to several reports.

A record 63.5 million US travelers went abroad, said the US Office of Tourism & Travel Industries.

The majority of US international travel growth was in the overseas and Mexican markets, with both posting gains of 5% over the past year.

The report by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) said potential foreign visitors are being turned off by “what is widely perceived as a complicated and confused visa” process.

The US government led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff last January announced a joint initiative called “Open Doors” to reduce visa hassles.

“The follow up, for all practical purposes, has been non-existent,” Vince Wolfington, chairman of the report, told USA Today.

He mocked it as “half-open doors.”

Part of the US’s problem is tighter security measures, the report said. There’s also been a lack of new technology implemented to make travel easier at airports.

The result: over the past five years, the US had a 4% decline in international travelers.

The WTTC report said if the US had kept pace with world growth, another 9 million visitors would have come here. Instead, that number declined from 51 to 49 million.

The report said other national governments subsidize travel promotion.

Meanwhile, the most popular destinations for traveling Americans remained Mexico. Canada was in second place despite a 5% drop.

The most popular overseas destinations were the UK, France, China (including Hong Kong), Italy and Germany.

Report by David Wilkening

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