U.S. Senate logic: Let’s attract foreign travelers by… charging them a $10 fee?

You can’t blame the U.S. government for wanting to encourage foreign travelers to visit the United States. Our economy’s in the crapper, and we need the money. But the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, introduced Tuesday in the Senate by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), is not the right way to do it.

The proposed legislation, a response to the decrease in foreign travel to the United States since 9-11, would “establish a non-profit corporation to better communicate U.S. entry policies to international travelers and promote leisure, business, and scholarly travel to the United States.” In addition, the Act would “create an Office of Travel Promotion within the Department of Commerce to coordinate with the Corporation.”

Sounds okay so far, right? Until you hear how the proposed non-profit corporation would be financed:

The Act “would require the Department of Homeland Security to collect a $10 ESTA [Electronic System for Travel Authorization] fee from foreign travelers for the Corporation.”

So let me get this straight: we want you to visit so much that we’re going to hit you with a $10 charge every time you do?

Not only that, the money will be directed at “focusing efforts towards countries and travelers who are most likely to travel to America.” So visitors from poorer countries will be subsidizing advertising directed at (mostly) wealthier countries?

Here’s what the US government can really do to encourage foreign visitors: Add more countries to the Visa Waiver Program. Stop requiring every visitor to the US (except those from the 35 “low-risk” countries already in the program) to go through the hassle, expense, and impossibly long wait that obtaining a visa inevitably entails.

And oh yeah, if a person is lucky enough to actually obtain a traveler’s visa, let’s stop treating them like criminals before they even get in the door.