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Controversial Travel Promotion Act Signed Into Law

The Travel Promotion Act (TPA), a measure designed to promote the U.S. abroad, and funded by a fee charged to visitors from other countries, has been signed into law. And while the aim of the TPA is good—the TPA also strives to educate foreign visitors about our entry requirements and security procedures—that latter aspect, taxing the very individuals the TPA targets, has drawn considerable criticism.

The TPA institutes a $10 fee for visitors from countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program, which enables citizens of 35 countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. The fee is charged when foreign visitors fill out their visa waiver forms, a process that is currently free. When the TPA was proposed, the Daily Mail wrote that “only in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ could a penalty be seen as promoting the activity on which it is imposed,” and suggested the E.U., or individual countries, could implement retaliatory fees.

But many tourism officials, both at home and abroad, see the TPA as a necessary means to ramp up the U.S.’ scattershot tourism marketing campaign. Richard Wimms, managing director of British-based holiday company The Vacations Group, told the Guardian (which called the TPA “bizarre”) that, “Up until now the US hasn’t had a central fund to promote travel there, but it has been much needed and is long overdue. [And] as far as the $10 fee is concerned, I think it’s a relatively small sum compared with the cost of the whole holiday, and is certainly far less than the airport tax charged for leaving the UK.”

Regardless, the TPA is now official, and an 11-member board will be assembled to devise an international marketing and outreach program designed to sell the U.S. to travelers abroad.

Personally, I think the TPA is a case of good idea, poor execution. I agree that $10 is a nominal sum, and wouldn’t necessarily deter me from visiting, say, Italy, but it seems counterintuitive to me to charge the people you’re hoping to attract. I’d feel better about the concept if the money went toward Customs procedures or airport improvements. But marketing and outreach? That just doesn’t make much sense.

Readers, what do you think about the Travel Promotion Act? Do you think it’s a good idea? Do you think other countries will hit back with their own fees? Leave a comment below with your thoughts. Thanks!

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