A couple of weeks ago I suggested a sort of Greeter Corps to make foreigners feel hugely welcome the minute they set foot and are going through customs, whether they are coming to vacation, to do business, to visit relatives, or to study.

Your further thoughts:

THE STATISTICS

Dave: ‘Here is a link to the problem. I, too, believe the US needs to wise up and treat foreigners like royalty.’

The number of foreign visitors to the United States has plummeted since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington because foreigners don’t feel welcome, tourism professionals said Thursday.

“Since September 11, 2001, the United States has experienced a 17 percent decline in overseas travel, costing America 94 billion dollars in lost visitor spending, nearly 200,000 jobs and 16 billion dollars in lost tax revenue,” the Discover America advocacy campaign said in a statement.

Chairman Stevan Porter lamented the “extraordinary decline” in the number of overseas visitors to the United States, while the advocacy group’s executive director, Geoff Freeman, blamed the slump on the shabby welcome many foreigners feel they get in the United States.

“It’s clear what’s keeping people away in the post-9/11 environment: it is the perception around the world that travelers aren’t welcome,” Freeman told AFP.

“Travelers around the world feel the US entry experience is among the world’s worst,” Freeman said, calling on the US government to work with the private sector to make visa acquisition more efficient, the entry process traveler-friendly, and to improve communication.

“We have put in place many reasonable security barriers but we have not communicated these barriers and we have not told travelers that we want their business,” he said.

“Six years after 9/11, we need to take this more seriously,” Freeman said.

“The United States has to do what every other nation in the world does, and that is to promote itself to visitors,” he said.

“If you look at visitor numbers from the UK before 9/11, we had 4.8 million visitors. Last year, the number was 4.1 million.

“Looking to 2010, the Department of Commerce is projecting an increase in those numbers, but only of one percent over the course of 10 years.

“If I ran a business that had one percent growth in 10 years, I’d be fired,” Freeman said.

The Discover America Partnership was set up by US business leaders last year to try and redress the flagging image of the United States and bring in more visitors.

FINGERPRINTING VISITORS

Jason Kelly: ‘Ernst-Dieter Martin wrote, ‘The US is the only country doing this to their visitors…’ Actually, Japan will start fingerprinting and photographing all incoming foreigners later this month – even those already living in Japan who are returning home from overseas. The brochure explains in several languages why this is good for protecting Japan, and notes that those who don’t comply will be denied entry. Japan copies nearly everything the U.S. does, but it was sad to see this happen so quickly.’

MAKING THEM CRY

Andrew Sullivan writes:

It is by far the biggest change I have experienced in my quarter century living in America: the experience of coming and going. While the illegal border is still chaotic, the legal border seems to be getting more and more onerous, unwelcoming, bureaucratic and sometimes terrifying. Getting any kind of visa can be a nightmare of bureaucracy; being finger-printed and treated like a criminal is the first actual experience many foreigners have of entering the US, and the process of getting through customs and immigration can be, even in completely incident-free circumstances, frightening. My elderly mother arrived for my wedding and started sobbing in my arms after the rough treatment she had received from airport security. The reputation of the US under Bush is in the toilet. But the experience of actually entering America may be affecting far more. These little anecdotes spread. And, in the end, Americans pay the price – in lost tourism revenue, less trade, forgone taxes, and so on. When Bush goes, the country’s reputation will instantly soar (unless he’s succeeded by Giuliani, in which case, we’re headed for pariah status). But unless we get a grip on the police state atmosphere at the legal border, the opinion of mankind with respect to America will only continue to worsen.

PUTTING THEM ON BIKES

Ralph Sierra: ‘What a great idea the Parisians have had – as reported here in the New York Times . . .’

Twelve weeks after the introduction of the Vélib, 15,000 bikes have been put into service at more than 1,000 stations. In that time Vélibiens (or Vélibeurs or perhaps Vélibistes) have checked out bicycles almost six million times and ridden them an estimated 7.5 million miles.

The Vélib system is simple. You swipe a credit card in a kiosk that is located beside a row of parked bikes and purchase a one-day, one-week or one-year subscription. (The system also takes a 150-euro deposit authorization to ensure the bike’s safe return.) The machine prints out a card with your code number and you enter a personal password. You tap in this code and password to unlock a bike and ride off.

When you’ve reached your destination, you look for the nearest Vélib station, click your bike into an empty dock, watch a light change from yellow to green to acknowledge that you’ve returned your bike, and you’re done. The first half-hour is free, after that the cost is 1 euro, or about $1.45, for the second half-hour, 2 euros for the third half-hour and 4 euros for each half hour after that.

TREATING THEM LIKE CRIMINALS

Steven Benoit: ‘My family and I returned from Germany this summer. What a contrast.

Munich’s airport was beautiful and laid out well with announcements and all signage in multi languages. We were waved through and our passports were stamped with a smile. No waiting. Upon our return to Philadelphia we were tossed into a churning herded crowd. All signage was confusing and only in English. Aggressive uniformed staff were shouting the same directions over and over (in English only) when clear signage in multiple languages would have had all of us understand where to go. When we return from Europe we continue to feel embarrassed by the way our recent hosts are treated upon entry. Even arrival to NYC…. dirty, confusing and no translations… welcome to America. Our friends from Germany report being treated like criminals. We felt the same way.’

 

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