| America's symbol of welcome: The Statue of Liberty|
The US entry process has created a climate of fear and frustration that is turning away foreign business and leisure travelers from visiting the United States and damaging Americas image abroad. But, according to a new global study conducted by the Discover America Partnership, minor improvements in welcoming travelers could yield substantial diplomatic and economic gains.
The study, conducted by independent polling firm RT Strategies and based upon a survey of more than 2,000 travelers worldwide, sought to gauge traveler perceptions of the U.S. visa and entry process, and how opinions of America differ among those that have and have not visited the U.S. The study revealed that, by deterring visitors, the U.S. is missing an enormous economic and diplomatic opportunity. Those that have visited the U.S. and interacted with the American people are 74 percent more likely to have an extremely favorable opinion of the U.S.
This study should be a wake-up call for the U.S. government, said Geoff Freeman, Executive Director of the Discover America Partnership. Visiting the United States and interacting with the American people can have a powerful, positive effect on how non-U.S. residents see our country. Unfortunately, perceptions of a rude and arrogant entry process are turning away travelers and harming Americas image.
Among the studys key findings:
- The U.S. entry process is considered the worlds worst by travelers
- Travelers rate Americas entry process as the worlds worst by greater than a 2:1 margin over the next-worst destination area.
- The U.S. ranks with Africa and the Middle East when it comes to traveler-friendly paperwork and officials.
- 54 percent of international travelers say that immigration officials are rude.
- Travelers to the U.S. are more afraid of U.S. government officials than the threat of terrorism or crime.
- Two-thirds of travelers surveyed fear they will be detained at the border because of a simple mistake or misstatement.
- By deterring visitors, the U.S. is missing an enormous diplomatic and economic opportunity
- Those with experience visiting America are 74 percent more likely to have an extremely favorable opinion of the country versus those who have not visited recently.
- 63 percent of travelers feel more favorable towards the U.S. as a result of their visit.
- 61 percent agree that, once a person visits the U.S., they become friendlier towards the country and its policies.
- Negative attitudes about U.S. treatment of visitors are having a much larger effect on keeping travelers away from the U.S. than negative attitudes about U.S. policies in the world.
- Nearly nine in 10 travelers tell their friends, relatives about their travel experiences most or all of the time.
- Minor changes in the U.S. treatment of foreign business and leisure travelers would yield substantial gains
- In every destination criteria but the point of entry experience, international travelers rank America in the top three. Travelers want to come to the U.S.
- Travelers are willing to wait an average of 46.5 days to get a visa to visit the U.S 15 days beyond U.S. State Department standards, but far less than current wait times in many countries.
- Travelers expectations include clear communications, respect and courteous treatment.
Foreign travelers are in agreement: the U.S. entry process is unpredictable and unfriendly to foreign visitors, it is hurting Americas image abroad and deterring many from visiting the U.S., said Thomas Riehle, partner, RT Strategies. These survey results help to explain the 17 percent decline in overseas travel to the U.S. over the past five years and the 10 percent decline in business travel to the U.S. over the past year.
The Discover America Partnership was launched in September, 2006 by some of Americas foremost business leaders. These business leaders recognize travel to the U.S. as an integral aspect of the public diplomacy process and have challenged the U.S. to welcome an additional 10 million more visitors annually. This initiative is undertaking an aggressive, ongoing campaign to draw national attention to the issue, and to push for solutions.
The Partnership is pursuing a variety of initiatives to help the U.S. better compete for international travelers, including:
- A detailed assessment of the U.S entry process, and how the nation balances security and economic prosperity. The study will look at the impact of current point-of-entry policies on the U.S. economy, and what we can learn from other countries.
- An ongoing effort to tap into the travel industrys expertise in hospitality to develop new, creative and better ways to welcome visitors to our country.
- A worldwide study of how other countries compete for international travelers and how the U.S. can demonstrate its commitment to welcoming more visitors.
The Discover America Partnership/RT Strategies study of international travelers was conducted between October 25th and November 9th, 2006. 2,011 non-U.S. resident international travelers were surveyed, representing 15+ countries worldwide. Half of those travelers had visited the U.S. since September 11, 2006; the other half had not visited the U.S. since September 11, 2006.