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New Fees From Foreign Travelers To Fund USA Travel Promotions

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us_capitol_buildingStarting Wednesday, visitors from 36 countries can expect to pay a new travel fee when they visit the United States.

The majority of the proceeds for the new fee will support the promotion of U.S. tourism, though opponents argue that the fee will discourage visitors.

The fee is being imposed on countries that fall under the Visa Waiver Program, which allows visitors to travel to the United States for 90 days without obtaining a visa.

As of today, travelers coming from countries with visa waivers will be charged $14 to register through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

The ESTA is the replacement for the I-94W forms that visitors with visa-waiver agreements traditionally completed during a flight.

Only $4 of the fee will go toward operating costs for ESTA. The bulk of the money will go toward funding the promotion of the U.S. as a tourism destination.

Opponents of the plan say that the fee will drive away the very tourists the U.S. is trying to attract. Instead of making the U.S. seem more open toward tourism, charging an entry fee would penalize visitors.

The United States should work to make the entry process into the country simpler instead of more cumbersome, opponents say.

Tourism officials in the United States, however, see the fee as necessary to bolster international visitation to the country. The U.S. Travel Association, an industry trade group, has praised the plan and the establishment of the country’s first national travel promotion program.

Tourism to the United States has been steadily declining despite a growth in global international travel. In 2008, 633,000 fewer overseas visitors came to the United States when compared to 2000.

According to Oxford Economics, an economic consulting firm, if the U.S. has a well-executed promotional program, it could draw 1.6 million new international visitors a year.

The U.S. Travel Association has pointed out that many countries spend more than $100 million annually to promote tourism and doesn’t expect the fee to have a negative effect on visitation.

The fee was established by the Travel Promotion Act, which was signed by President Barack Obama in March. Part of the Travel Promotion Act legislation created the Corporation for Travel Promotion, a non-profit that will be partly funded by the $10 fee. The corporation will also be funded by up to $100 million in matching private sector contributions.

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By Adriana Padilla at PeterGreenberg.com.

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