- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Almost two-thirds of visitors to the United States are “frustrated” by long lines and inefficient customs and entry procedures at the nation’s airports, and nearly half will tell others to avoid travel to the U.S. as a result, according to a new survey released Tuesday.

Sixty-four percent of those questioned agreed with the statement “I am frustrated by the long lines and wait times during the Immigration and Customs process,” found the survey, conducted by Consensus Research and commissioned and released by the U.S. Travel Association, an industry group that represents the tourist trade.

Forty-three percent said they would recommend that others avoid visiting the United States because of the lengthy and inefficient entry procedures they had experienced, and travelers on average tell eight other people about their experiences, the survey found.

“Too many visitors to our country … report that they have experienced a Customs process that they believe is inconsistent, confusing or embarrassing,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association in a statement.

The association estimates that up to 10 million visitors annually do not return as a result of their own experiences, or do not visit at all as a result of hearing about others’ experiences.

That translates into $95 billion in lost business revenue from hotels, shops and restaurants and 518,900 American jobs at risk, the association claims.

“We are failing to address a galling entry experience that is driving 43 percent of our guests to tell others to avoid travel to our country,” said Mr. Dow, predicting that matters will worsen as the impact of the across-the-board automatic federal government spending cuts that kicked in this month is felt.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said recently that the cuts, known as the sequester, likely would lead to furloughs and overtime bans in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency which staffs customs and immigration checkpoints. These moves would lengthen processing and wait times for foreign visitors, which already run as high as two or three hours in some U.S. airports, the association said.

The association recommends hiring an additional 1,000 CBP officers and setting a target standard of 30 minutes wait time, which it says would cost approximately $150 million.

• Shaun Waterman can be reached at swaterman@washingtontimes.com.

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