Four steps the U.S. could take right away to earn more money from tourism
Published: August 10, 2012 at 10:50 AM
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:
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.