Posted by JOSE GUZZARDI – Roger Dow, the president and CEO of the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), visited the Clinton School Tuesday to talk about the changes on national and international tourism in the United States since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
The US Travel Industry is worth about $713 billion dollars a year, and it creates 7.5 million jobs across the country. Tourism is one of America’s most important industries, and according to Dow, it is a strong tool for public diplomacy and a great way to improve America’s image abroad.
However, the number of foreign tourists coming to the United States has decreased considerably in the past few years. In 1992, 9% of people who crossed international borders came to the United States. In 2000, this number was reduced to 7.5%, and just last year, it went down to 6%. Dow pointed out one of the major reasons for this decrease is the difficulty for foreigners to obtain tourist visas to come to America, and he gives the example of Brazil to illustrate his point.
In Brazil, the visa application process is very complex and time-consuming, taking an average of 100 days for someone to obtain a tourist visa. All Brazilians must be personally interviewed for the visa, and they have to pay a $100 dollar, non-refundable fee for the interview. These interviews last for about three minutes, and the interviewer at the consulate must determine whether the applicant is someone who is “eligible” to come to the United States.
All of this hardship to obtain a visa has directly affected the number of Brazilians visiting the United States. In 1998, one million people from Brazil visited America. In 2000, this number was reduced to 750,000 and just last year, it dropped to 500,000. This has a direct effect in the American economy, since Brazilians are big spenders – the average Brazilian spends about $2,000 dollars per trip. This means that the United States just lost $500 million dollars from the Brazilians, who decided to visit Europe instead (the number of Brazilian tourists in Europe increased from 500,000 to two million in the past six years).
I am originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and I have personally experienced this process to obtain my visa to come to America. I am a senior at the University of Central Arkansas, and have recently been accepted as a graduate student at the Clinton School. Throughout the years I have spent in the United States, I witnessed this country’s beauty and the friendliness of its people. Even though the United States is considered the most unfriendly country in the world, I try to change that image by telling my friends and family all the good things that I see happening here.
Roberta Soares is one of those people. . .She is one of my best friends in Brazil, and I consider her to be part of my family. A few months ago, I personally invited her to come to my graduation from UCA. Even though she had work responsibilities, she made arrangements to come and scheduled her visa interview. Coincidentally, she was being interviewed at the exact same time as Roger Dow was speaking at the Clinton School.
After her interview was over, she called me to tell me that the American consulate in Sao Paulo denied her visa because there was not enough evidence that she would come back to Brazil, even though she had already made flight reservations to return one week after my graduation. The person interviewing her rejected to even look at the flight reservations or any of the other documents that she brought with her, which included a letter of recommendation that I had written for her. Besides being saddened by not being able to come to my graduation, she was extremely upset with the “arrogance of the American people.” She told me, “I cannot believe how arrogant Americans are… she didn’t even look at my documents before denying my visa.”
Her three-minute experience at the consulate undermined all the things that I have been telling her about the greatness of America. This is just one of the many stories happening in American consulates and embassies in Brazil, and throughout the world. I know Americans are not arrogant, and I hate to see my friends thinking they are. But as long as this country maintains policies that do not welcome friendly visitors, America’s image abroad is going to continue to deteriorate.
Click here to listen to Roger Dow’s speech at the Clinton School www.clintonschoolresearch.com.
Click here to visit the Discover America Partnership, an effort to increase America’s image abroad. (http://www.poweroftravel.org)