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Four steps the U.S. could take right away to earn more money from tourism

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Published: August 10, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Disney posted an impressive earning report this week, driven in part by strong tourism at its theme parks in Anaheim and Tokyo. Walt Disney World didn't fare as well, but Disney made a point of talking about factors affecting international tourism in its report.

Having just returned from Europe, and traveled to Asia late last year, I've seen how other countries often welcome international visitors… and their money. It's a smart move. Money from international tourists is bonus cash for an economy - money from people who don't stick around long, consuming many public services. And international tourists are great for theme park fans. Their money helps theme parks justify building expensive new attractions that Americans can enjoy, too. But the United States, somewhat isolated internationally due to geography, hasn't always embraced tourist-friendly policies.

Millions of honest, peaceful people around the world want to visit America, and spend their money here. We ought to make it easier for those would-be tourists to do that. Here are four steps that America can take immediately (or is already in the process of taking) that can help bring more visitors to the United States, including to our theme parks:

Inside the A380
All aboard to America!

1. Reduce visa requirements for visitors

In a conference call with analysts this week, Disney CFO Jay Rasulo said "the only thing we're held back by from South America is actually, believe it or not, our visa policy and the ability for people to get access to the market." Earlier this year, President Barack Obama asked Congress to expand the list of countries whose citizens don't need a visa to enter the United States for a short visit. Yet Congress hasn't acted, using security concerns as an excuse. (It's not like being from a non-visa country exempts you from TSA checks when you fly to and enter America.) If potential visitors didn't have to go through the hassle of going to a U.S. Consulate, filing out extra paperwork and paying an extra fee, it's logical that more visitors would consider a U.S. visit. And since visa requirements are also always reciprocal, reducing the visa requirements on incoming visitors would mean fewer visa hurdles for US citizens traveling abroad, too.

2. Expand Open Skies deals

The United States has agreed to an "Open Skies" deal with Brazil, but it won't be in effect fully until 2015. Open Skies agreements reduce government restrictions on international flights, allowing the airlines to decide how many flights to schedule on specific routes. Of course, governments never want to act unilaterally - so the Open Skies framework creates a blueprint for governments to get together and open up more routes between their countries. More air routes = more revenue for airlines, on lower airfares for tourists, and more visitors for our country.

3. Post more multilingual signs in tourist areas

English is the international language of aviation, and even in Japan and France, many signs include English, often as the primary language in the Disney theme parks. But millions of visitors to America don't speak English, and millions more potential visitors stay home because they don't speak the language.

I don't care what you think about people who don't speak English, but the money tourists spend in America is more money for all of America. "English-only" laws that prohibit governments from spending money to include Spanish and other languages on highway signs and other facilities in tourist areas are costing all of us money by making America a more hostile place for certain visitors. Instead of prohibiting multilingual signs, government agencies and tourist-friendly businesses ought to be looking for more opportunities to post signs that include Spanish, German, French or other languages in addition to English. Let's roll out the welcome mat in areas international visitors most want to see.

4. Require that taxes be included in all posted and advertised prices

Traveling to Japan and Europe in the past year, it was a huge relief to me to find that posted prices included tax. That meant I could budget my spending much more accurately, since I knew exactly what I'd be charged at the register. But what really struck me was imagining what it would be like for people from those countries to visit America. With sales tax varying from city to city, not to mention state to state, these visitors would have no idea what their final bill would be. (Heck, many American visitors don't.) How would you know if a cashier wasn't ripping you off by throwing a couple extra quarters onto the bill? It's not like most visitors memorize the local tax rates for every place they visit.

And don't get me started on airfares and hotel room charges. Let's make it easier for people to figure out the true cost of travel. Let's be like much of the rest of the world and require businesses to include all applicable taxes in the prices that they post.

What do you think? Over the weekend, I'll post four more things that the U.S. can do over the long term to increase tourism, as well.

Readers' Opinions

From Chad H on August 10, 2012 at 11:07 AM
Never understood this whole "plus tax" thing, maybe its a con by the companies to make their prices seem lower... I know when the Australian government introduced the GST (Goods and services tax, basically a sales tax), some retailers wanted to follow the American model, but the consumer and competition watchdog was having none of it...
From 69.114.48.81 on August 10, 2012 at 11:11 AM
I think you are absolutely Right? We need many Changes. I for one think that an extra revue from an Idea I got from looking at a U.S.A. Flag with an Eagle. Why not have State Quarter Flags. You known like a Quarter with your State on it.

It would bring in much revue to the U.S.A. and that Money could be put to good use as in Social Security Benefits, Veteran Benefits, Medicaid and Medicare. Not only would it bring in Revue n to this Good Old U.S.A. It will also boost up Tourism.

If you agree please go to www.Care2.com and look under New State Quarter Flags and Sign the Petition. We need only 1,000 People to help the American Dream come true. Now go make History and Thank You for your Comment on Four Steps the U.S. could take right away to earn more Money from Tourism.

With the State Quarter Flags it would give you "FIVE" Good Reasons to bring in Money from Tourism.

Mastic, New York
11950

From Michelle Pilling on August 10, 2012 at 11:19 AM
Hi there, I would love to come back to the USA, but its got too dear to travel from the UK. The park tickets are very exspensive for families, cheaper deals and tickets would bring us back asap. i have been looking at theme park closer to home this year, but our youngest wants to go to orlando again. The visa scheme is great but puts extra on the hoilday, before we book. we have to see, if we can travel to the USA. If not, we would have to travel to London from manchester to get visas etc, more money.
Its a shame we love, Orlando theme parks and want to see harry potter world.
love michelle x
From 81.70.136.4 on August 10, 2012 at 11:45 AM
You make some good point but missed on a few very important ones.
Vacation home: We had a vacation home in Davenport for 11 years. I bought a car, got a drivers license and our crime was bringing lots of people to the US that otherwise wouldn't have come for a stay of at least 3 weeks. They all bought clothes, went out to the restaurants, the parks and had a good time. We even paid our taxes although we didn't had kids that went to school in the US and we hardly used any of the facilities. Then 9-11 happened and the big US transformed into a little scary schoolgirl. I had to renew my driver's license EVERY TIME I came into the country and had to pay a extra fine because I was too late to renew it because the thing expired the moment I left the country! Then one day when my 65+ year old parent arrived at the OIA, they had to go into a separate room and where treated like criminals. They where yelled at and threatened. Their home would be sold, they would be thrown on a plain and never see their money ever again or could ever come back. This went on for almost 45 minutes after a very long flight. Of course that didn't happen but they where traumatized and done with the whole thing and we sold our home.
Now we only go back once every 4 or 5 years. We can only take one suitcase with us (for free) so buying cloths is not as much as we did in the past. You know the US government even wants access to my bank account and they want you to log in and give all your personal details before you leave. Not strange people think twice to visit a country that is more work to visit then Russia during the cold war and be treated like crap.
I still think a vacation to the USA is a great deal now the dollar is as low as going to any other third world country. But fun, well, it could be much better.
From Ricardo K on August 10, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Right on! Being a foreigner myself (been living in the US for over a decade now) I know how difficult it can be to travel to the US. Things can go beyond the language, visa issues, and sales tax. We are used to measuring things in miles, reading temperature in Fahrenheit, and weighing things in pounds. Most of the world is not. Those are simple things but I've seen them cause a lot of misunderstanding!
From Brian Emery on August 10, 2012 at 1:05 PM
I wrote about how many taxes I paid and listed said items in a thread on this site a few months back. Some ignorant folks made a few comments about taxes in Florida compared to other states when all I was doing was pointing out how much we are taxed on a simple vacation.

Anyway before I digress, it was nice to see someone else like me mentions taxes on vacation… Bravo Roberto!!

Yes you are correct – Include taxes to be paid in the prices listed would help out of town folk’s budget monies.

From Marc Benz on August 10, 2012 at 1:31 PM
Thankfully, I don't need a visa and I also don't mind the ESTA, apart from the fact they now charge for it.

But what I really don't like Is the immigration process. I mean they have all my information and they can see that I visit the US quite often and always leave before the expiration of my temporary immigration permit. I really hope they will soon expand the Trusted Travellers program to more countries, I'll happily pay a fee if I could do the immigration formalities on a computer and don't have to stand in line to see an immigrations officer. Would save them money too and free up manpower to check on the complicated cases...

Oh, and another thing! American airlines really should upgrade their planes they use between Europe and the US. Most European carriers offer personal displays and onboard entertainment systems at every seat, but Delta and US Air only have one screen somewhere in the front and sometimes the plane interior looks really old fashioned.

From 86.174.173.160 on August 10, 2012 at 1:47 PM
I agree about arriving in the usa. OK dont esta done advance information and then after a 10 hour flight have to stand and queue forever to get into the country
From Clive MACCALLUM-ROBERTS on August 10, 2012 at 2:29 PM
I totally agree with the sales tax, it's confusing for tourists when they shop in the US, it would be more sensible to display the prices with tax so the one can budget whilst shopping without getting a nasty shock at the checkout
From Derek Potter on August 10, 2012 at 4:24 PM
US business owners are funny about posting taxes on their products, but there is a reason for it. From a retail standpoint, it's quite the undertaking for some places to move to this model. Think of a store that has thousands of UPC codes and tags on each item. Then think of the tag itself. Since POS computers automatically add tax to a purchase, that means the bar code would have to stay the same and the actual price on the tag would have to reflect the price in that store/town. The other alternative is to have POS machines not reflect sales tax and just have both the UPC and price tag the same, but that would still require work on the back end, as well as an overhaul to every POS and bookkeeping software. Is it possible? Yes, but we are talking about interrupting the supply chain and adding extra steps to it. That make it more costly to do business, and usually ends with higher prices. Something like this might work within a small regional operation or a local store that prices it's own stuff, but it would be a mess with a national company that gets product from everywhere and has a central computer gathering data from multiple states. Better to figure a way to post rates or some kind of scale.

I do agree with all the issues with travel though. It's amazing how we make foreigners who want to visit us, enjoy our country, and spend their money jump through hoops, while illegals and criminals simply jump the fence from the south and walk across from the north. I get that 9/11 changed everything..etc etc, but some of the restrictions and regulations are a little much, and it keeps people away.

What will really boost tourism is making it less expensive to actually go somewhere. That means companies cutting costs and reducing prices, which simply won't happen when more taxes, regulations, and government mandates interfere. Another factor is the rate of inflation, which affects absolutely everything. I know these are broad things, but everything is affected by them, and they are the real root of the problem. It's not by greed or a whim that these places simply raise prices or make things difficult. Businesses have little choice but to react to the conditions that they are operating in, and right now the conditions aren't good.

If the US wants to gain more money from tourism starting immediately, I have two words....fuel prices. We can talk about oil companies and speculation and foreign oil dependency all day long, and all of those are factors... but has anyone taken a good look at the amount of taxes you pay on a gallon of gas? Probably not many because taxes are included in the purchase price. I encourage people to take a look and consider what we are paying and where it all goes. Like it or not, people drive their cars in this country, and they especially drive on vacation. It's not that people can't afford the fuel, it's that they are spending a higher percentage of their budget on it. If they aren't doing that, they are simply staying home. Meanwhile, fuel costs are adding to the bottom line of businesses, and the prices reflect that as well.

I hate to make the whole thing political, but in essence that's what it boils down to. If the economy sucks, then the tourism sector sucks. The question then becomes...Why does the economy suck and how does it get fixed? That can of worms is probably better left for another site and another forum. After all it's supposed to be fun around here right?

From Anthony Murphy on August 10, 2012 at 4:43 PM
I will start off by saying that number 4 is a great idea and probably wouldn't cost any extra money or extra politics.

As for the others, I agree for the most part, but I thought that since 9/11, there has been beefed up security requirements for any plane entering the US. I mean, remember the Underwear Bomber? He came on a plane from Amsterdam. I think that international airports have to prove to the US that they doing the right security. Is this right or not? I think it has its pros and cons.

The English thing is a fascinating point. What languages should be written? I think Disney World does a pretty good job with this compared to other places. I also feel that one of the downsides of Disneyland Paris is that it is located in an area (Europe) that has too many languages flying around. I think capping the amount is good. Perhaps Disney could look at recruiting more international cast members. I also thought Portuguese (Brazilian) is making its presence known in WDW lately!

From 84.56.122.182 on August 10, 2012 at 5:16 PM
No visa requirement makes no difference. That online form, the entrance fee and all those stupid questions at the airport are much more anoying than most visa procedures. In addition theres always some risk the stupid questions get extended from 5 minutes to hour long interrogations. The later one probably scares most people off.

From rick stevens on August 10, 2012 at 6:14 PM
I agree with all of the comments. Even as a native I would like to see tax included in the listed price. The problem rises when you have strange percentages as in California. Lets say you have an item that normally lists at $1.00. At 8.75% tax, it would be $1.09 (rounded up of course). If the listed price included tax and you purchased 25 of the items you would pay $27.25 for the items. If you purchse the same 25 items with no tax listed you would pay $27.19. Maybe a win-win in the long run, with more tax money coming in and an easier monitary language for out of towners. Don't know if it matters that there is that difference, but you never know.
From Kelly Louise on August 10, 2012 at 7:16 PM
I couldn't agree more. Coming from Australia I had to apply and pay for a visa to visit America. It's cost wasn't prohibitory, but since I can travel any European country, most Asian and South American and African countries without one it might have put me off (if I wasnt going to the US to visit my sister). Especially since after I arrived I still had to have a visa screen- I theoretically could have still been denied entry, even though I already had a visa. The tax thing is annoying, but probably more so because it changes between states and products and is always a difficult amount to estimate before you go to pay (13.5% whhaaaatt) especially since all the US money looks the same (I'm in favour of pretty coloured monies so I dont have to pull out each note to read). Personally I would love to see more language signs in the parks. In Europe I liked to be able to read the names of different places in different languages!
From Sarah Barnes on August 10, 2012 at 9:54 PM
I definitly agree with point 4, it's really difficult for anyone visiting the states. I have long avoided going to the US just because of differences like these, oh and the whole tipping thing. I also agree with the points other people have made about getting into the States it's ridiculous. I'm lucky I can get an ESTA online coming from NZ but the way every none american is treated like a criminal and finger printed does not increase good foreign relations. The staff are also in need of some customer service skills. You never have these problems going in anywhere else and immigration staff elsewhere are always friendly despite their serious job. On saying all this though, once in the US we were very impressed by the standard of the customer serivce and have already decided we need to come back.
From 86.46.196.14 on August 11, 2012 at 2:16 AM
The Tax thing is annoying but not even close to the experience of US Customs. I have travelled all over the world and have never experienced the attitudes shown in the US. Everyone is treated like a criminal. I travel to the US regularly I have an ESTA and each time I travel its as a tourist and like most tourists I leave thousands behind me each time I go.

My passport shows that I never overstay my ESTA and am normally in the US to visit Orlando so I am obviously not some criminal mastermind, but every time its the same. Myself and my parter had a serious discussion about not returning the last time.

Any other country you visit you get welcomed and told to enjoy your hoiliday in the US its Sir answer these questions for the fourth time, scan your bags for the third time, que here so we can Pat you down, why are you visitng the US again?, what hotel are you staying in?.I actually saw a family being delayed on the grounds one the kids could not remeber the name of the hotel they were staying in !!.

No other country makes you fill in so many forms or have your fingerprints taken and no other country makes you go through so many hoops just to get in,I can deal with the forms etc but the treatment in customs is getting old fast.

From Joseph Catlett on August 11, 2012 at 4:37 AM
Something else the US can do that they simply are not doing right now is to take a realistic look at prices they charge and make it affordable to travel. As an example, my wife and I take one big trip every year for our anniversary in October. Last year we had every intention of going to Hawaii for 5 nights. When looking at travel sites we were blown away at how much more expensive the islands of Aloha had become to visit, even from a place as relatively close as Los Angeles. On a whim we decided to look at travel to Europe...to our IMMENSE surprise we were able to go to LONDON instead. We were able to afford 7 nights instead of 5, not have to worry about renting a car due to the fantastic tube system and the entire trip was LESS expensive and a heck of a lot more exciting.
For years the locals in Hawaii have been complaining about the tourists and the traffic. Well, it looks like they got their wish, this is one tourist who is not coming back there until they get their prices under control again.
From 86.168.17.181 on August 11, 2012 at 7:55 AM
I have visited the USA several times (from the UK) with my kids. However, each time I get pulled into another room for extra questioning at immigration. The questions are usually the same and totally pointless, e.g. how much do you earn?! The only reason I can think of is that I have an unusual surname. Another point - on the ESTA they ask if you have ever been arrested for a moral turpitude (whatever the exact definition of that is), and if so, it says you have to apply for a visa. Now I know of many people who have been put off from visiting by this because they had spent a night in a police cell in their youth many years ago for things like being drunk.
From 81.70.136.4 on August 11, 2012 at 8:27 AM
The language barrier and the tax ting is not a problem. When I drive for 5 hours I could meet 8 different countries and languages. English is ok. The whole Spanish thing that is going on at the moment in the US is horrible. Rude staff, bad service and people who are hardly able to speak English in a way I could understand.
The tax thing is a "cultural" thing, like tipping and you have sheets at your travel agencie to let you know what's different from what you are used to, No big deal.
Customs is a big deal. Yes the countries that fly to the US have heightened security regulations because the US orders them (and our governments are so stupid to accept them. If someone wants to kill people because of their opinion (or their leads opinion) there is no complete safety ever. That is something people in the EU know already for a long time. We try to infiltrate them, know what's going on and wrap up groups when possible but we don't let everyone's life's be miserable because we are scary. Get over yourselves and grow up is the only thing to do. There will always be a nice Dutch guy in your flight from Amsterdam to the US that will stick his fists in a guys face who wear explosive underwear. What happened with the home of the brave part?
From HELEN CARRIER on August 11, 2012 at 2:43 PM
Have a smoking area in the airports so all of the passengers are catered for especially if they're on long flights.
Get rid of ticket touts who are there to waste everyones time with time-shares.
If a park is under construction tell the world not just the U.S. sell dicounted tickets for the inconvenience.
As for the tax being put on goods after: its not that hard to work out and it wouldn't be America if it changed.
What i did notice in Orlando was the amount of tat being sold on International Drive, if people want this sort of shop they can get it back home and usually cheaper.
Show people who choose not to drive that there is alternative transport to get you to all parks without costing the earth.
Although for us in England it is a long and expensive journey, i dont think its the lack of us going to the U.S. its the lack of spending money when we get there after incurring high passenger taxes and paying for esta's .
From david t on August 12, 2012 at 5:49 AM
hi all,
I would like to add my comments, but before I do I ask dont get defensive as it comes from an outsider an aussie. I travel a fair bit. I plan my trips around theme parks and cruises. eg a visit to disney LA goes with a mexico cruise, a universal sentosa(singapore) gives a cruise from Singapore to Hong kong and a disney HK at the end and so on.

Have been to the US many times since 1975 and if Im honest its getting harder as time as gone on, Your comments on the immigration is very correct as an australian I feel like I am treated like a terrorist, My wife and I have had at least two realy bad experiences - we had one of the officers tell us she hated australians and stamped our cards SSSS which ment we spend two hours being subjected to all sorts of searches, let me say I am 100% happy to have any checks to ensure the saftey of all passengers and the country in general, but this sort of anti australian sentiment gives the whole experence a bad feel and it this sort of thing you tell your friends when you get home, a few smiles with welcome to the USA, have a great time would be a great start. Maybe disney could train the immagration department in customer relations LOL

the taxes are a real pain, it would be great if the price on show was the real price, its impossable for us travelers to calculate the different types taxes to add, in the UK theres a flat cost (VAT), here we have GST and its illegal to put a price on anything unless the tax is included.

tips - theres a another thing that I guess australians find difficult - I am never sure what I am supposed to add so usually end up asking a local to help - boy I get some funny looks, I think to show the power of the resistance to tips is that the US cruise ships that roam the australian shores have deleted tipping on cruises here,

the US doesnt seem to want to entice visitors, Australian TV is constantly blitzed with Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, China even Canada, but never the USA which seems a bit odd as theres some much you have to offer. The welcome you get in the Asian countries is just brilliant,

I tried recently to book a cruise through a (theme cruise company in the USA)on Princess cruise ship. Even though there is a free trade agreement between the US and australia, I was not allowed to book the trip, because I did not have a US address, the cruise was Miami to the caribbian,so clearly not tourist friendly, no I could not book the cruise from here either as it was run by a US company

Australians have good disposable income, every working person is guarrenteed a minimum of 4 weeks paid annual holidays every year and every worker is guarrenteed that when youve done 10 years with the same company that you get one months paid holiday plus a further months paid leave every 5 years after that, many workers negociate 6 or 8 weeks annual leave, thats why we travel so much.

As I said at the start I am not trying to bash the US, but give an honest view from an outsider and Im sure their are US tourists who had problems here also, you cant please everyone

I will be back in the US next year for my 14th visit, I have cousins and children that are now US citizens,

thanks david

From Karin Sobelman on August 12, 2012 at 7:04 AM
You want to bring tourists to America? Give them something they can't get anywhere else. I realize this is a themepark forum, but I am currently in Niagara Falls, NY and the amount of foreign tourists is amazing. They outnumber Americans. When I visit Washington, DC and the Grand Canyon, it's the same thing. I don't think it's that it's difficult to get here but we need to have things which will attract visitors. I think Disney shot themselves in the foot by building parks in other countries. Why come here to see Cinderella when she's in Europe and Asia? What the states should do is enhance what is already here and perhaps visitors will stay here longer. Niagara Falls, NY doesn't offer half the attractions as the Canadian side so people travel there after visiting here.
From Mark Kausch on August 13, 2012 at 6:06 AM
I agree with some, if not much, of what you said, and in the interests of keeping this short, I won't reply to any of the other replies (is that redundant?).

I don't see reducing visa requirements happening any time soon. Much of America is still shell-shocked from 9/11 and it might take decades more before getting over it, if it ever happens. Unlike many locations, it was our "first time" and was not anything many ever conceived of happening. By the way, could anyone decipher ESTA for me? I'm guessing "extended stay" for the first two, but...

I can't speak for many other locations, but here where it never rains, road signs have been going up in a European style for many moons. I think, based on what I've seen, this is a non-issue. If you know where you're going - let's say Balboa Park - that's what you should be expecting to see on a road sign. The turnoff will also be what it is. It's not going to help to see "The Royal Way 2 miles" on a road sign when the turnoff itself says, "El Camino Real". It's not going to help to see a sign that says, "Temecula 10 km" when the speedometer and odometer on your - presumably rented - car are in miles.

As far as taxes go, I can't see what the issue is here either. Adding about 10% to everything planned should get you around the cost of your trip and might be a pleasant surprise when all is said and done.

From Anon Mouse on August 13, 2012 at 8:14 AM
They are good points, but you left off some good ones.

5. Currency exchange. Most banks in U.S. do not exchange foreign currency. I'm planning on traveling overseas and it would be nice if I can pre-exchange dollars to something else and then re-exchange when I return, but it is likely that I cannot do this at home.

6. Credit cards. U.S. cards are not compatible with European standards. Foreigners must figure out how their credits cards work in the U.S.

7. Phone service. The major phone companies do a poor job of allowing you to use your phone at foreign countries. Think of how bad a visitor will use U.S. service. In most cases, you have to look for an alternative phone.

8. Internet. Let's make it easier for everyone.

9. TSA is a mess. Let's fix it before too late.

10. Airlines are a mess. Nickle and diming everyone to death.

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