AUSTRALIANS travelling to America will be asked to pay a $US10 ($A11) fee to help fund a program to boost US tourism - as well as the country's ailing economy.
The fee will apply to the US ''visa waiver'' program that is used mostly by tourists and short-stay business travellers from 34 countries, including Australia and New Zealand.
Details of the fee were contained in the small print of the Travel Promotion Act, which was signed into law by US President Barack Obama late last week. The new impost is expected to raise about half the funds for a $US200 million global ''Come to America'' campaign, the first time the US has resorted to a government-sponsored, international sales pitch similar to those used by Australia and other countries to win a bigger share of global tourism.
The campaign is expected to increase visitor numbers by an estimated 1.6 million travellers, while restoring a more relaxed and welcoming image of America in a security-conscious era.
A senior vice-president of the US Travel Association, Geoff Freeman, was reported welcoming the campaign. ''The perception of Fortress America has taken hold, partly because we haven't gone out and told people we want their business,'' he said. ''And so we've had fewer overseas travellers every year since 9/11.''
There were 2.4 million fewer international tourists visiting the US last year than in 2000, with America's inability to keep pace with the expanding global long-haul tourism market estimated to have cost it an estimated $US500 billion in lost revenue over the past decade. About 567,000 Australians visited the US in 2009.
It is estimated the campaign could bring into the US an extra $US4 billion in tourism spending a year, creating more than 40,000 jobs
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