WASHINGTON (AFP) — 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.
The head of the Travel Industry Association, Roger Dow, at a recent briefing for reporters also stressed the importance "of the welcome we issue to people.
"What affects travel and tourism affects our economy and our image around the world. Travel and tourism is the face of America, whether it's people coming here or Americans going elsewhere," he said.
"It's the person coming from India to look at a company in America for parts, or a person from South America who can't get into the country for a conference because he can't get a visa," Dow said.
The Discover America Partnership was set up by US business leaders last year to try to redress the flagging image of the United States through a campaign of public diplomacy, waged equally by the government, business and public.
"The greatest public diplomacy tool America has is her people. Those who have visited the US and interacted with the American people consistently feel more positive about the US than those who have not visited," the advocacy group says on its website, citing the Global Attitudes Project of the Pew Research Center, a think tank based in Washington.
Last year, only 56 percent of Britons had a positive opinion of the United States compared with 83 percent in 2000, the Pew Global Attitudes report for 2006 shows.
Thirty-nine percent of French people saw the United States in a positive light last year, compared with 62 percent in 2000.
In Turkey 12 percent had good things to say about the United States last year -- 40 percentage points down on 2000.
"The United States has to do what every other nation in the world does, and that is to promote itself to visitors," Freeman 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.
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