Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Travel Advisory

Would you visit someone if they made you feel unwelcome? If everything they did made you wonder why you came for a visit, would you ever do it again?

Are foreign tourists starting to avoid coming to America on holiday—even going as far as avoiding simply stopping in America in transit to somewhere else? Some argue they are, due to America’s increasingly bad treatment of travellers, especially foreign ones, as part of its “war on terror”.

An article in the January 20, 2007 New Zealand Listener magazine describes one Kiwi’s experience as a traveller in modern America:
I left the US vowing never to return. I’m not alone. Tired of being fingerprinted and photographed on entry like a criminal; of abuses of security that include young children being separated from parents to be searched; of endless delays, missed flights, humiliating strip-searches and even incarceration because of some minor bureaucratic bungle, significant number of travellers are now avoiding the US as a destination or even for transit…
Are they? According New Zealand’s Ministry of Tourism, in November, 2006, the number of Kiwi departures heading to the US declined 10.9 percent over the same period in 20052. That may not sound like a big drop, but comparing that figure to the numbers from the Ministry and the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ), there was an increase in the years 2003/04 (up 19.9 percent) and in 2004/05 (up 12.7 percent)3. The recent decline, then, is more pronounced than it seems.

Americans, too, are complaining about security measures that have the effect of delaying and inconveniencing travellers. The US’ “watch list” is riddled with errors, as the Washington Post recently reported. Only now is the US government trying to implement an appeal system for people banned from flights in America because their name is on the “watch list”.4

Meanwhile, the US government is set to add new, seemingly odd personal information to its data-gathering system. A December, 2006 story in the Christchurch Press said…
Every airline traveller entering the United States will now be assigned a secret computer generated terror threat score, based on information from their car number-plate to the food they ate on the flight. The rating cannot be seen or challenged and will be held on file by American authorities for 40 years.5
Ongoing security restrictions, such as the ban on carrying liquids onto US-bound planes, may also deter some travellers. So, too, many complain about being photographed and fingerprinted.

When the US started fingerprinting and photographing foreign travellers on arrival, at least one country retaliated by doing the same to Americans. “They’re treating us like criminals!” a clearly shocked and outraged American tourist complained to the TV reporter. He experienced only what foreigners feel like on arrival in America.

With such barriers put up against tourists, one would expect to see a decline in international travellers to America. For New Zealanders, the November 2006 report showed that while fewer Kiwis were travelling to America, total short-term travel overseas was up 2.3 percent over November 20056. If this is repeated in other countries, it will mean that tourist dollars are shifting from America to other places.

There are plenty of people who will avoid travel to the US—and spending their money there—because of what seems like overzealousness at the US borders. Really, who can blame travellers who make other plans? There aren’t many people who will visit where they don’t seem to be welcome.

1“Search and Seizure,” by Marilyn Head. New Zealand Listener, January 20, 2007, page28. Also available after 3 February 2007 at: http://www.listener.co.nz/issue/3480/features/7909/search_and_seizure.html
2“International Visitor Arrivals Report,” November 2006. Ministry of Tourism, page 1.
3“Key Tourism Statistics,” published by Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ) with the Ministry of Tourism, page 2.
4“U.S. Agency Tries to Fix No-Fly List Mistakes,” Washington Post January 20, 2007, published on www.washingtonpost.com (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/19/AR2007011901649.html)
5“Terror on the menu in US,” Christchurch Press, 4 December 2006, published on www.stuff.co.nz (http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/0,2106,3888081a34,00.html)
6“International Visitor Arrivals Report,” November 2006. Ministry of Tourism, page 1.

1 comment:

lost in france said...

An especially sad thing is that U.S. immigration treats U.S. citizens just as badly.