Senate Votes To Charge $10 Fee To Tourists For Tourism Promotion

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Senators voted Wednesday to charge international travelers a $10 fee to help pay for a new nonprofit corporation that would promote tourism in the United States.

The legislation, which passed 79-19, was backed by the travel industry. Lawmakers said many international governments aggressively help tourism in their countries by subsidizing promotional programs, but the United States leaves that work up to the private sector and to state and local governments.

Lawmakers from tourism-dependent states such as Florida and Nevada led the effort to pass the bill, along with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the bill's chief sponsor.

"We desperately need jobs. We're very dependent on tourism. This bill will help create tourism-type jobs, but it won't just do it for Nevada," said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. "When people come to our country to visit, they may come to one state primarily, but they usually stop in several other states along the way."

Senators, citing data from industry sources, said ramped-up marketing efforts would lead to an additional 1.6 million international travelers coming to the U.S. annually, and they said those travelers spend about $4,500 per visit.

About 58 million international travelers visited the U.S. last year. Industry officials say many potential visitors are looking elsewhere because of enhanced border security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks and because of negative coverage from foreign media outlets.

Much of the money for the promotional efforts will come from fees paid by the travel industry. The rest would come from the $10 fee on international visitors.

The United States began requiring people who don't need visas to enter the country to register online at least 72 hours before travel and renew their registration every two years. If the new proposal becomes law, it would require people to pay the $10 fee when they register.

The European Union has said that some U.S. travelers to Europe could face retaliatory fees.

A similar bill has been proposed in the House, but has not been voted on.

In backing the legislation, Democrats were also looking to give Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a boost as he seeks a fifth-term representing the state of Nevada. In June, supporters could not generate the 60 votes needed to have an up-and-down vote on the legislation.

"He found a way to rescue this bill, bring it back to life," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

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