Visitors to the U.S. will today start paying a $14 fee to promote travel from overseas under a law sought by companies such as Marriott International Inc., Walt Disney Co., American Express Co. and Loews Corp.
The fee, which may generate about $105 million a year, will pay for advertisements, trade-show participation and journalist visits “to convince travelers around the world that we want their business,” Jeff Freeman, executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association, said in an interview.
The tourism industry is betting the fees will help overcome a 2.4 million decline in overseas visitors last year from 25.9 million in 2000, according to a report by the association. The Washington-based group’s 1,700 members include Disney, Avis Budget Group Inc. and Carnival Corp., according to its website. Airlines and the European Union are among critics of the fee.
“If the idea is to make the United States more welcoming, raising a tax seems to be counterintuitive,” Steve Lott, spokesman for the Montreal-based International Air Transport Association, said in an interview. Ending long waiting lines and revising complicated entry procedures would lure more travelers than ads, he said.
Travelers from 36 countries will pay the charge when they register to visit the U.S. for as long as 90 days without a visa. The countries include the U.K., Japan, Germany, France, South Korea and Australia. An overseas traveler will pay the fee once during a two-year period.
President Barack Obama signed legislation in March to institute the fee. The travel association, formerly called Discover America Partnership, had pushed for the levy since 2007. The travel-promotion fee is $10, with the Homeland Security Department keeping $4 for application processing. The law expires Sept. 30, 2015.
Cecilia Malmstroem, European commissioner for home affairs, said in a statement last month that the fee “will be an additional onus” for European visitors to the U.S.
“We’re getting to be a rather overtaxed industry,” Simon Talling-Smith, British Airways Plc’s executive vice president for the Americas, said in an interview. “That’s not stopping people, at a time when their treasury coffers need to be full.”
Other countries might adopt similar charges in retaliation, or because they like the concept, said Lott, whose group represents 230 airlines worldwide.
The U.S. is “the only developed nation in the world that is not promoting itself to attract visitors,” Freeman said. “Other countries have been at the game, and we’ve been standing at the starting line.”