Tuesday, June 12, 2007

You're Welcome—or Are You?

The organization Discover America has been undertaking some research on the openness of Americans to those who are new, strangers, foreigners or aliens.

This study has been undertaken because the U.S. entry process has created a climate of fear and frustration that is turning away foreign business and leisure travelers from visiting the United States – and damaging America’s image abroad.

The research, conducted by independent polling firm RT Strategies, and based upon a survey of more than 2,000 travelers worldwide, sought to gauge traveler perceptions of the U.S. visa and entry process, and how opinions of America differ among those that have and have not visited the U.S.

Among the study’s key findings:

* The U.S. entry process is considered the “world’s worst” by travelers.
* Travelers rate America’s entry process as the “world’s worst” by greater than a 2:1 margin over the next-worst destination area.
* 54 percent of international travelers say that immigration officials are rude.
* Travelers to the U.S. are more afraid of U.S. government officials than the threat of terrorism or crime.
* Two-thirds of travelers surveyed fear they will be detained at the border because of a simple mistake or misstatement.

Unfortunately, perceptions of a ‘rude’ and ‘arrogant’ entry process are turning away travelers and harming America’s image.”

The study revealed that, by deterring visitors, the U.S. is missing an enormous economic and diplomatic opportunity. The good news is:

* Those that have visited the U.S. and interacted with the American people are 74 percent more likely to have an extremely favorable opinion of the U.S.
* 63 percent of travelers feel more favorable towards the U.S. as a result of their visit.
* 61 percent agree that, once a person visits the U.S., they become friendlier towards the country and its policies.

The report concluded that minor changes in the U.S. treatment of foreign business and leisure travelers would yield substantial gains

It is easy to understand the need for greater vigilance in the U.S. following the terrorist attacks several years ago but heightened security does not necessarily need to be accompanied by rudeness and unfriendliness.

In many religions, the attitude towards the foreigner is a key litmus test for identifying genuine goodness.

Zooming our focus down from the airport to the home and from an international survey to a personal reflection it is important to think of the level of hospitality we extend, especially to those of another culture.

Geoff Pound

Image: A welcome mat with mixed messages.