Simon Calder: Could your US holiday go west this summer?

The way that countries respond when tourists play hard to get tells you plenty about their attitude to visitors. Ireland has reacted to a drop in bookings from Britain by coming up with some unrefusable offers: not just short-term, limited-availability deals but "well-I-never" bargains with bucketloads of capacity. Such as: free trains for older travellers. This month, Northern Ireland Railways has joined its counterpart in the Republic in offering unlimited rail travel to overseas visitors aged 66 or above: tap "Golden Trekker" into a search engine for details.

The US is heading in a very different direction. Throughout the difficult first decade of the 21st century, in which relative tourist numbers to America have slumped, the British have proved the most resilient of visitors. The US authorities want to lure yet more of us across the Atlantic to discover our own American dream, featuring some combination of the great outdoors, high-energy cities and thrilling theme parks. They aim to do this by establishing a "Corporation for Travel Promotion". Just what the US has needed since it took the unusual step of disbanding its national tourism board in 1996. Soon, the Americans should be able to offer prospective visitors the same combination of information and inspiration that almost every nation has been providing for decades.

The big difference is: you and I will foot the bill for the big sell. Not just indirectly, through the taxes on what we eat, drink and buy while on vacation, but by paying a levy to support a budget of up to $100m (£65m) a year.

No Brit seeking to visit the US without a visa will be able to dodge the fee. That is because it will be collected when you go online, as Homeland Security requires, to apply for permission to visit. At present the "Electronic System for Travel Authorization" (Esta) is free, but by next May you will have to hand over £10 for the privilege. The Travel Promotion Act imposes a $10 fee, and the authorities reckon it will cost another $5 to collect it and administer the scheme – which you and I will also have to pay for. So $10 mushrooms to £10.

Plenty of people already think you have to pay for Esta, because if you tap that acronym into a search engine the first listing will invite you to pay £25 to an outfit called "US Esta Service Providers" – one of many pretenders. At present, the official site ( https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) is free. So if you have any vague intention of visiting the US in the next two years, apply now.

You could instead forsake North America for the lands south of the border. To tempt people aboard flights to Latin America next year, Lufthansa is offering some spectacularly low fares – see page 16 for a £327 return ticket from London to Venezuela's capital. Caracas, if you ask me. (Search midweek dates in March 2011 for the best availability at this price.) Other deals include Mexico City from Manchester for £388, or Birmingham to Bogotá for £355.

The US still gets as many British visitors in a day (18,000) as Colombia lures in a year. When you arrive at JFK or Los Angeles, it can sometimes seems all 18,000 are in the queue in front of you. But Bruce Bommarito, chief operating officer of the US Travel Association, says "We believe in secure immigration but the country's also got to be welcoming." He concedes that, five years ago, touching down in the US could be grim. "We've made some pretty good improvements. We added 800 officers to 20 airports which has shortened the lines significantly. Their goal is that no one should wait in line for more than half an hour. I think they're more than beating that goal."

Let me know if you agree.

Identity crisis for Grand Canyon state

“Carry your passport with you atall times,” urges a new warningfrom the Foreign Office. “Youwill face a fine if you do not.”You might imagine that thisnew Foreign Office bulletin isaimed at visitors to some far-offtotalitarian nation with a longhistory of antipathy to tourists.In fact, it applies to the Americanstate of Arizona, whose wondersrange from spectacular desertscenery in the south to the GrandCanyon in the north.A state law intended to “discourageand deter the unlawfulentry and presence of aliens”takes effect on 29 July. While thiscontroversial new statute isaimed at illegal immigrants fromsouth of the border, the ForeignOffice evidently feels Britishtravellers to Arizona are at risk.Bruce Bommarito of the USTravel Association sees it differently:“I don’t think anybodywalking the streets of Arizonaneed feel compelled to have theirpassport with them.”

travel@independent.co.uk

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Sport
footballLive blog: Follow the action from the Capital One Cup semi-final
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Day In a Page

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century