In a recent poll of international travelers, commissioned by Discover America Partnership, a coalition of US tourist organizations, 70 per cent of respondents said they feared US officials more than terrorists or criminals. Another 66 per cent worried they would be detained for some minor blunder, such as wrongly filling out an official form or being mistaken for a terrorist, while 55 per cent say officials are "rude."
Such fears are fuelled by the horror stories. Earlier this year a friend of mine was detained for hours and strip-searched at LAX for a minor visa infraction. He was finally allowed to enter the US, on the condition he departed the next day. "I won't be coming back," he said.
In a January Listener article New Zealand journalist Marilyn Head described how she missed a flight after being treated like a criminal by US airport guards. "I left the US vowing never to return," she wrote. "I'm not alone.". . .
Before September 11, US airport staff often seemed to err on the laid-back rather than on the vigilant side. Now some overzealous officials appear to regard all tourists as potential terrorists. Entering America can feel like running the gauntlet. . .
Such comments, and the poll results - which rate the US by a 2:1 margin as the world's "most unfriendly" destination for foreign travelers - are found in "A Blueprint to Discover America," unveiled in January by Discover America Partnership to halt a dramatic decline in foreign visitors.
According to the blueprint overseas travel to the US has slumped 17 per cent since 2001, even as world travel to other countries reaches historic growth levels. The decline has cost US $94 billion in visitor spending, US $16 billion in tax receipts, and some 194,000 American jobs. Many poll respondents said that visiting the US had become a hassle and that they would take their holiday money elsewhere.