Are our security policies driving away tourists?

Oxford Economics, in conjunction with Tom Ridge (the first DHS secretary) have analyzed travel patterns to the United States and have found travel to the US to be on a decline. Survey data indicates that a major reason may be overly restrictive security and immigration policies. The eoconomic impact is not trivial — it’s to the tune of over $100 billion dollars over the last seven years.

Overseas travel to the United States has fallen 17 percent since its peak in 2000, with a cumulative cost of more than $100 billion in lost visitor spending, almost 200,000 jobs and $16 billion in lost tax receipts. World economic growth has been stronger during the past three years than at any other three-year period in the past thirty years. Almost all destinations – outside of the United States – have benefited from increased inbound travel amidst this rising economic tide. Worldwide, international travel has been expanding at a rate of six percent per year.

Making the decline all the more perplexing, the United States is a price-attractive destination for international visitors with the dollar weakening 30 percent against the euro and 22 percent against the pound since 2001. Historically, a weakening dollar should drive robust gains in visitation to the United States.

A survey of 2,000 foreign travelers starts to indicate why travel is down:

- By a greater than two-to-one margin, respondents say the United States has the “world’s worst” entry process;

- Sixty-six percent of respondents say they are worried they may be detained for hours because of a simple mistake or misstatement at a U.S. airport;

- More respondents were concerned about U.S. immigration officials (70 percent) than the threat of crime or terrorism (54 percent) when considering a trip to the United States; and

- Sixty-one percent of respondents believe that the United States makes little effort to attract international visitors compared to other countries.

In other words, we're scaring the crap out of these people with our security and entry policies. And incredible as it may sound to some, not everyone who enters the United States is actually a terrorist.

I’m, obviously, all for good security. But when “security theater” significantly affects us economically, one has to rethink how we’re protecting this country and what we can do optimize the process toward pragmatic solutions.