Monday, September 27, 2010

Can the ESTA Euro Reciprocity Version be far behind?

Airbus A340-600 wide-body airliner of Cathay P...Image via WikipediaBack in March, we wondered out loud how long before other countries with their own travel/tourist promotion boards decide that they have forgotten to tack a $10.00 travel fee to visitors from the United States. Actually the total fee is $14 since there is an additional $4.00 "administrative cost."

The ESTA fee went into effect earlier this month, and we're now just hearing the furious feedback from the other side of the Atlantic.

Via Spiegel Online:

European Union officials are furious with a new US fee mandatory for most travelers from Europe. Calling the charge tantamount to a new visa requirement, the EU is now considering introducing a similar fee for American travelers.

Fourteen dollars may not sound like a lot. But this autumn, the sum -- in the shape of the new fee being charged by the United States to some overseas visitors coming into the country -- is proving enough to inflame tempers in the European Union. This month, an increasing number of members of the European Parliament and other EU officials are blasting the charge for being both incongruous and for running counter to US-EU agreements.

"I think it is a bit bizarre to introduce a tax to promote tourism," intoned Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of European Parliament with Germany's business-friendly Free Democratic Party during a recent debate on the issue in Strasbourg. In addition to pointing out that such a tax could actually dissuade people from traveling to the US, Lambsdorff also said "it seems a bit absurd that the US of all countries would tax people who are not represented in this debate. Taxation without representation, I believe, has played a certain role in American history."

At issue is the so-called Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a $14 fee which travelers from 36 countries now have to pay prior to visiting the US. While $4 dollars of the fee is to be for ESTA administrative costs, $10 is to pay for US efforts to promote the US as a tourism destination. Travelers to the US, in effect, are being asked to pay for the advertising aimed at encouraging them to travel to the country.
The US fee applies only to travelers from countries not currently required to obtain a visa prior to travel -- a list comprising 36 countries worldwide including every EU country except for Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania.

Some quotes:
"I remain convinced that these new requirements ... are inconsistent with the commitment of the US to facilitate trans-Atlantic mobility."
European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström

"The EU needs to continue negotiating with the US on this issue and, if necessary, introduce a fee of our own."

Elmar Brok, a center-right MEP from Germany and chair of the European Parliament committee which overseas US-EU relation

“It seems peculiar [...] that foreigners are requested to pay for promoting tourism to the United States, as this may possibly lead to less — and not more — travel.”

 European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic during the debate in Parliament

"Maybe the US is developing a new business model here: to have consumers pay for the advertising given to them. This is unbelievable."

said German MEP Elmar Brok of the European People's Party

"We are examining all possibilities, including an EU Esta system. A feasibility study is being worked on now and could be introduced in the future, if member states agree."

from Commissioner Maros Sefcovic

The US Administration has been "discourteous to its friends
," said one deputy.

Several members of the center-right European People’s Party, the largest in the European Parliament, issued a harsh response, calling the fee “harassment,” “unjustifiable” and a “burden on transatlantic relations.“We have to remind the U.S. once again,” the lawmakers said in a statement, “that transatlantic cooperation can only work if both partners are on the same level … . This rip-off is not acceptable.”

Darn! They called the USG's Electronic System for Travel Authorization a rip-off. A rip-off as in a bad financial transaction where a person overpays for something?

According to this website, around 900,000 travelers will use it every month, estimated one MEP, paying $4 for administration and $10 to promote tourism to America.

That seems like a lot of eurobucks funding the whole travel promotion for the United States, doesn't it?  I mean, think about it -- the Europeans will be underwriting those nice NYC, New England, Alaska, etc. parks and adventure travel posters and brochures, DVDs, fancy postcards, website, blogs, and presumably the salaries of people doing the work of USA promotion.

We can understand why our friends across the pond are so very upset.

The major overseas destinations for American tourists are the UK, Italy and Japan.   Can you imagine what kind of tempest it would have created back here had those countries decided to add on a $14.00 travel fee for all American travelers?  Especially if the money we paid was used to promote travel to the UK, Italy and Japan to urge more American travelers to visit?

In essence, we'd have paid a fee to these countries so they could convinced our neighbors and friends to visit the Colosseum in Rome, or the Tower of London, or the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, etc. Their ads on our dime! Imagine the signs over in the national mall -- caving in to foreigners and such things?      

One of our favorite bloggers, back from the grave, had to excuse herself to visit the vomitorium: 
There was a time when Madam believed that there were still depths to which the USG would not stoop.  No more.  The new ESTA fee has finally served to reach those ultimate depths.  At least this month.

In case you might have missed it, the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, signed into law earlier this year, implemented a new public-private partnership between the U.S. government and the nation’s travel and tourism industry.  (Since said industry is so responsible with its cash, apparently, and since similar ventures have worked so well in the past.  Please excuse Madam while she gags.) 

If you're an overseas American, you don't have to walk around with paper bags over your head as you tour around Brussels or Rome or anywhere in the 36 countries for the next few weeks.  If anyone inquire about this matter, blame it on ... whatshisname... oh, Harry Reid.  But USG passport holders should be prepared to underwrite the tourism promotions of countries XYZ at some future time.
And although we agree that this is an unhappy development for our friends across the pond, and quite tacky, too -- we feel the need to point out that $14.00 is a bargain since it is good for two years and does not include iris scans, ear scans, fingerprints, toeprints, mouth swabs, and real hair or skin samples.

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