Tourists to U.S. Hit with New Fee – Critics Say, Unfair

Welcome to America! Now Pay the Fee.

Starting today (Sept. 8, 2010), travelers from 36 countries will have to pay an extra 14 bucks to visit the United States.

This $14 fee is a requirement of the ESTA program – Electronic System for Travel Authorization – and ESTA is a requirement for travelers using the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Got that?

Who Has to Pay the New Fee?

Essentially, this fee is levied on visitors from most of Europe, Australia, and Singapore (and you can see the entire list of countries on the U.S. State Department's website). These are tourists who are allowed to visit America for 90 days without getting a visa.

What's the Fee Used For?

And the fee is used to…promote the U.S. as a tourist destination. Paid for by folks who already traveling to the U.S. as a tourist destination. Got that?

"Like Inviting Friends for Dinner and Charging Them a Fee"

Critic Steve Lott of the International Air Transport Association, the group that represents airlines all over the world says, "It's like inviting a friend over for dinner and then charging them a fee at the door." Or like being invited to a wedding and told, cash gifts only ("And make that check a big one.")

Okay, let's get real: we are only talking about $14 here – but still – people in this country are freaking out over $25 bag fees and a whole host of other annoying airline fees that have been imposed in the past few years (so many, we had to devise an airline fee chart to list them all). Is this really the way to lure tourists?

U.S. Needs More Tourists

On the other hand, CNN cites Commerce Department figures that note tourism to the U.S. is off by more than half a million visitors since 2000…which reminds me that the anniversary to 9/11 is coming up shortly.

Other Countries Impose Fees, Too

Also, a government official notes that plenty of other countries (56 by one count) impose some kind of fee on visitors, which is sometimes rolled into the price of an airline ticket.

So there you have it. Will this deter visitors to the U.S.? Or is this the right thing to do?

Photo from Celso Flores on Flickr

Anne McDermott
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