To Really Attract Foreign Shoppers and Tourists, America Needs to Make Them Feel Welcome

When the U.S. dollar is down, foreign tourism in the U.S. is up — this adage was bankable for a long time. But, these days, the economy down in many parts of the world, it’s not necessarily true. When it comes to tourism and foreign consumption, the U.S. has felt the pinch of the recession domestically and internationally. A recent report details America’s plan to give a booster shot to the economy, by making foreign tourists and shoppers more aware of chances to come to America. This is a nice idea, but fails to address the larger problem of the way in which America handles foreign visitors when they apply for a visa, and especially once they arrive in the USA.

The world knows that they are able to come to the United States. They also know they can get anything money can buy in America. What America needs to do is make them feel like VIP guests from the first moment they apply for visas, to the moment they return home. I propose three unique steps to take in this process:

First, America needs to realize that its post-9/11 visa regime serves a purpose, but can be implemented with more diplomacy and tact. At the very least, it has been a nuisance in fields such as tourism and academia for people from allied countries. India, which has worked hard to build a strong relationship with the United States in the past several years, sends thousands of scholars, investors and tourists over to the United States every year. The vast majority experience a bureaucratic and investigative process, which presumes most people applying to come to the United States are naturally terrorists. This needs to change if you want to inspire people to pay money to come to the United States.

Second, the U.S. should institute a tourism awareness program that promotes U.S. cities besides the popular destinations of New York City and Los Angeles. Some of America’s hidden gems, such as Reno, Nevada or South Beach (in Miami, Florida) would be uniquely adored by Indians, as they are so different from the cities in India. Each city could have its own multimedia, video, and social media outreach, at a very modest cost, to appeal to the potential millions of visitors from India.

Third, you need to appeal to the tourist’s pocketbook in these tough times. I’d suggest a roving tax holiday for tourists, which would of course also be applicable to American tourists. The economic problems that America and the world are struggling with, cannot be resolved through tax collection alone. But, by consumer spending, which in turn will lead to business development and more jobs. This ultimately will beget more consumer spending and get things on the right track. The idea has been met with some opposition, but would not be so drastic that it couldn’t be undone, should officials decide it is not a solid plan.

What I have listed is a good start. If America is going to look overseas for solutions to its economic woes, they need to put their best foot forward. Nowadays, any tourist knows that for every Los Angeles out there, there’s a Dubai, a Shanghai and a Goa that will welcome them with even more open arms.

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