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Mayors Urge More Marketing Spending As U.S. Tourism Drops Off

Troubled by steep declines in international tourism, mayors nationwide are urging the federal government to spend more money on marketing the United States and to make the entry process friendlier and faster.

Responding to a survey by Travel Business roundtable, mayors from the country�s top travel destinations said tourism�a driving force of the economy�needed to be a top priority.

The number of overseas visitors to the U.S. has dropped 17% overall since its peak in 2000 and 20% in the top 15 cities...costing more than $100 billion in lost visitor spending through 2005, according to the Commerce Department.

Tourism boosters blame lackluster marketing efforts. This year the Commerce Department will spend $3.9 million on marketing to foreign tourists. In comparison, Malaysia will spend $117.9 million. As a result, tourism boosters believe that the U.S. is likely to cede China in the next couple of years its position as the third-most-visited international destination. France and Spain are the top international tourism destinations.

Several factors are to blame, they say: America�s declining image abroad, the difficulty and time it takes to get a visa and the perception that U.S. ports of entry are unfriendly, understaffed, and overzealous about security.

Of the mayors polled, 73% said that entry procedures and treatment by U.S. immigration and customs officials reinforce negative perceptions of the country, according to the survey results released. Officials from the State Department said they agreed with the mayors and travel industry, and have taken extra measures to expedite visa processing.

Currently, visitors from 27 countries, mostly in Europe as well as Japan, Australia and New Zealand, are not required to obtain visas to travel to the U.S. However, visitors from other countries must obtain them.

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