Airlines that grow and still are affordable to fly
Airlines that grow and still are affordable to fly

My oldest brother, who lives in Holland, sent me a belated birthday wish with the excuse that he was on vacation in central Portugal until today and didn’t have my email address or phone number with him. He had planned to come visit me and my brother Thom here in Fernandina Beach, but after checking first the hotel rates (obviously he checked the Ritz and the Plantation), he figured it was quite pricey, as he called it. Then looking at trans Atlantic airfares, he decided that it was going to be Portugal instead. He had already planned a long trip to Argentina and Chile for February and March of next year.

Now it would be easy to discard his choice as not being in a position financially to afford a trip here, which would be far from the truth. My oldest brother is a retired chemistry professor with a whale of a pension. In addition he has owned and operated a high-end specialty fishing travel agency for some 25 years. He spends large parts of his time in his chalet in the Norwegian Fjords and travels the globe with his (paying) fishing buddies. To call him well-to-do would be an understatement.

No, his choice was based on the fact that he and his wife traveled round trip from Dusseldorf, Germany, to Oporto in Portugal, a two-and-a-half hour flight each way, for $90 (Euro 60) altogether and all inclusive. The airline they flew on is Ryanair which has been doing this type of discounted fares for at least a decade now, not a fly-by-night airline and with superb equipment. As a matter of fact, they operate the second largest fleet of Boeing 737-800 in the world, after Southwest Airlines.

The main reason why overseas flights to the US are so costly, my brother claims, are the ridiculously high airport taxes in the US. This remark prompted me to look at my brother Thom’s roundtrip ticket from Orlando to Santo Domingo (DR) later this month and I noted that the transportation part of the fare (Spirit Airlines) is $108 and the tax part is $162! There must be some truth to this.

Some with more digging I came up with the following information: Despite strong global growth in long-haul international travel between 2000 and 2008, the U.S. welcomed 633,000 fewer overseas visitors in 2008 than it did in 2000, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“The lag in the growth of overseas visits can be attributed to a difficult visa process, a lack of national promotion and a negative perception of how people are treated upon arrival”, said Roger Dow, the U.S. Travel Association’s president and CEO. Well apparently, the airport taxation in tickets is also a strong element here. I have to chastise Mr. Dow for his obvious reaching for excuses. I have been flying in and out of the United States for 30 years now.

We used to get a warm welcome to the United States when I first visited in 1978. That all changed slightly with the Trade Center bombing in 1993 and after 911 it became hell. Today, it’s all so tense with security and entry requirements that traveling into the United States creates a massive stone in the stomach as soon as the plane touches a US runway. There used to be a courtesy that is lost and that needs to come back before people will come back. This is guaranteed to be one of the main reasons the U.S. Travel Association claims overseas visitation to the United States has yet to recover to pre-9/11 levels.

Contrary to Mr. Dow’s statement that this complaint has been addressed, I can vouch that is not the case. He lives in denial when he claims, “While strides have been made in recent years, it takes time for those changes to be recognized. It’s like if you go to a restaurant and you’ve known there’s a three-hour wait every time you want to go… and then two years later they fix it, but you’ve stopped going there.” Dow claims an assumption that doesn’t add up, as the internet would get the change of attitude around the globe in less time than it takes to satisfy an immigration officer that you have no ill intent in mind.

The real reason for Mr. Dow’s approach comes clean when he whines that the US does not allocate sufficient budgets for promoting the US around the world. I have never heard more BS than that. In the world where I come from we know more about the USA than most Americans. You don’t need to¬† expose us to glossy advertising or TV commercials; we know where Yellowstone Park, Disney World, the Sears Tower or Sonoma County is and if these destinations are worth their promotional dollars, we know from the internet what is happening there – when and where.

The following is an excerpt from CNN that sheds a light on more wasted tax money.

“We don’t promote the United States. Every other developed country in the world spends millions — some countries spend 150 to 180 million dollars [promoting tourism],” Dow said. In 2005, the most recent year for which figures have been compiled, national tourism organizations in Greece, Australia, Malaysia, Mexico and Spain each spent more than $100 million marketing inbound tourism, according to research conducted by the United Nations World Tourism Organization. France, the world’s top destination for international arrivals last year, spent more than $63 million in 2005, while the United States spent just over $6 million.

The recent passage of the Travel Promotion Act in the U.S. House and Senate brings the United States a step closer to widespread national promotion. Because of legislative procedure, the act requires a final vote in the Senate. Dow’s association hopes the legislation will receive the vote in the coming weeks. The act calls for a nonprofit corporation for Travel Promotion that would promote the United States as a travel destination, giving equal attention to rural and urban areas.

Segments of the travel industry — including large destinations, cruise lines, airlines and hotel chains — have the means to promote themselves privately, but that leaves out national parks, forest lands, rural communities and the small businesses that make up most of the industry, according to Kristin Lamoureux, director of the International Institute of Tourism Studies at The George Washington University. “This is an opportunity to brand the U.S.,” she said.

Funding for the public-private organization would come in part via a $10 fee charged to visitors from countries included in the Visa Waiver Program who don’t have to apply and pay for visas. Visitors would pay the fee every two years when they register online using the new electronic system for travel authorization.
Some opponents say charging tourists to fund promotion will deter overseas visitors from coming to the United States and may cause other countries to levy new fees on American visitors.

“We don’t want foreigners to have to jump through so many hoops that they just give up and don’t bother coming to the U.S.,” said Steven Lott, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, which represents airlines around the world. “I think focusing our attention on making entry and exit procedures easier would go a long way to help tourism, rather than fancy videos and shiny posters,” he said.

Marianne Botoft and Line Andersen, 26-year-old massage therapists from Copenhagen, Denmark, who recently visited New York City, disagree with the proposed fee. “It’s not fair that people that come to the country have to pay for the country’s promotion of itself,” Botoft said. Her friend Andersen agreed. “It’s not fair. We’re spending a lot of money already.”

Overseas visitors to the United States in 2008 spent an average of $4,500 each. Visitors from Canada and Mexico, who take shorter trips, spent about $871 per trip, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Overseas visitors make up 80 percent of the United States’ international travel receipts, while amounting to only 44 percent of international arrivals.

Oxford Economics, an economic consulting and forecasting company, estimates a well-executed promotional program would draw 1.6 million new international visitors annually and generate $4 billion in new visitor spending. The Congressional Budget Office expects the program to reduce the federal budget deficit by $425 million in the next 10 years. The current economic climate makes promotion more critical, said Adam Sacks, managing director of Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics partner firm. “You’ve got a shrinking pie … you’re not going to be just enjoying a rising tide — you’ve got to go out and get market share,” he said.

International tourism started to drop off globally in the second half of 2008, and this year, international tourist arrivals worldwide have declined by 7 percent from January to July, compared with the same period in 2008, which was still strong. The United States’ improving global image also makes plans for increased promotion timely, Sacks said. “I think the U.S. has a particular opportunity right now because it’s in the process of refurbishing its brand in the global arena politically,” he said. “There’s a direct relationship between opinions about the U.S. and willingness to travel here.”

Assumptions across the board will vote for big promotional dollars to be spend without any result; addressing the essentials are:
1. Smooth entrance into the country (no one wants to stand in line for 45 minutes to an hour (jet lagged after an 8 – 12 hour flight)
2. Absorb the airport taxes if that’s what you want to do with promotional dollars.
3. Go on the internet and let people worldwide know that they are now welcome and then act accordingly.

Case closed.

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