14 February 2011

Calls to widen ESTA program to increase US tourism

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Despite an international boom in travel over the past decade the US attracts fewer overseas visitors than it did in 2000, new data shows.

ESTA

The head of the US Travel Association has called for the expansion of the ESTA program to increase tourism.

New figures show a ten percent rise in foreign visitors during the first 11 months of 2010 compared with the same period in 2009 but the US Travel Association (USTA), which works to promote US travel, said the US drew fewer overseas visitors for the tenth consecutive year.

Official figures show that in 2000, 25,974,700 visitors arrived in the US from overseas, but only 25,715,300 arrived in 2010 - one per cent less.

Geoff Freeman, the president of USTA, has suggested improving and streamlining the US visa and entry processes and called for more promotion of America abroad.

Freeman said the US could attract more visitors by widening its visa waiver program, which allows the citizens of 36 nations to travel to the US for up to 90 days using the online ESTA application which is approved within 74 hours. Nationals from countries not in the visa waiver program have a more lengthy application process which can mean waiting more than 100 days for an interview with an American consular official.

Overseas visitors spend an average of $4,000 each per trip,  and the USTA calculates that the country has lost 79 million visitors in the past decade, with $585 million in lost spending and $37 billion in lost tax revenue.

Freeman said promoting America to foreign travellers could help to stimulate the economy and create jobs and revenue.


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