Skip to main content

Visitors to pay U.S. tourism promotion fee

By Marnie Hunter, CNN
Click to play
U.S. charges entry fee
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • $14 fee applies to visitors using Visa Waiver Program
  • $4 will cover administrative costs; remaining $10 will be used to promote U.S. tourism
  • Charging tourists to promote tourism doesn't make sense, critics say
RELATED TOPICS

(CNN) -- Planning a trip to the United States? Tuesday is the last day for citizens of some countries to dodge a new travel fee.

Starting Wednesday, travelers from 36 nations will be required to pay $14 to register through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA, required for travelers using the Visa Waiver Program.

Four of the $14 will cover ESTA operating costs, and $10 will go toward promoting the United States as a tourist destination.

Charging tourists to promote tourism doesn't make sense, critics say.

"It's like inviting a friend over for dinner and then charging them a fee at the door," said Steve Lott, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, which represents airlines around the world.

"If the idea is to make the United States more welcoming and to increase tourism, raising the entry fee seems to be counterintuitive to what you're trying to do," Lott said. Instead, more effort should be made to improve the cumbersome entry process, he said.

IATA voiced opposition to the fee to members of Congress before it was established by the Travel Promotion Act, which was signed by President Obama in March.

The legislation created a nonprofit public/private Corporation for Travel Promotion that will be funded in part by the $10 fee collected from visitors who are not required to apply and pay for visas. Up to $100 million in matching private sector contributions will provide the rest of the corporation's funding.

The U.S. Travel Association, an industry trade group, is pleased with the establishment of the country's first national travel promotion program, which will address a need to bolster international visitation to the United States.

In some countries, national tourism organizations have been spending more than $100 million annually on tourism promotion for years, according to the association.

The United States welcomed 633,000 fewer overseas visitors in 2008 than in 2000, despite strong global growth in long-haul international travel during that period, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The U.S. Travel Association doesn't expect the fee to have a negative effect on visitation. Economic consulting firm Oxford Economics estimates a well-executed promotional program would draw 1.6 million new international visitors annually.

In addition to promoting tourism, the Corporation for Travel Promotion will be tasked with communicating U.S. travel and security policies to international visitors. The $14 fee covers travel to the United States for two years.

It's too soon to say how the fee will affect tourism, either positively or negatively, IATA's Lott said, but his organization will be watching closely to see how the promotional funds are spent and whether other countries respond with fees for U.S. visitors.

"The minute the U.K. or France or Brazil start charging a similar fee, [Americans] are going to get angry," Lott said.

No new rules for U.S. travelers have been announced, but some countries are not happy with the new fee.

Cecilia Malmström, European commissioner for home affairs, called the fee "inconsistent with the commitment of the U.S. to facilitate transatlantic mobility," saying it will be "an additional onus for European citizens traveling to the U.S."

Maureen Dugan, an executive director with Customs and Border Protection, said during a briefing last week that many countries impose fees that are rolled into airline ticket prices.

"There are 56 plus countries that impose entry-exit fees and they are in -- within the ticket or within some other tax. ... We don't see that this is inconsistent with the Visa Waiver Program."

The United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Australia and Japan are among the 36 nations that participate in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows visitors to travel to the United States for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.