Medjet Travel Assistance Tip – It is often argued that travel and tourism is a powerful force to knock down barriers, build trust and promote peace and understanding. But first, it might be useful to know which countries are the most challenging when it comes to the “welcoming” factor. The World Economic Forum (WEF) now ranks 140 countries by how friendly—and unfriendly—they are to incoming tourists.
While there are always other ways to measure a country’s popularity, such as infrastructure, cultural resources, safety and security, the one factor that continues to resonate with the WEF and travelers alike is the local population’s attitude toward foreign visitors.
The worst offender? Bolivia, followed by Venezuela. The most welcoming countries were Iceland, New Zealand and Morocco. What about the U.S? Not exactly a flag-waving moment of celebration: according to the WEF, the United States only placed 102 out of 140 in terms of “welcoming.”
The “friendliness factor” was just one piece of a much larger puzzle, and used a ranking of 1 to 7, with the lowest meaning “very unwelcome.”
OK, so much for the numbers and the rankings. What really counts is what is in your own travel experiences. There’s simply no way you can describe an entire nation in one blanket term. I’ve been to Bolivia and Venezuela and had an incredible time with the locals every time. On one trip I had someone in New Zealand who was rude to me. Does that drop the entire country off the top of the list? Hardly.
However, America’s position in 102nd place should be a wake up call to our government, especially in terms of where our visitors first have contact with our country: customs and immigration.
I experienced the problem first hand when I came in from Tokyo, landing in Los Angeles. American Airlines used to have their own international traveler processing facility, but this time they had closed the terminal to incoming passengers. After an 11-hour flight, we were shepherded over half a mile to the Tom Bradley customs area. Once we got there, we were stuck behind an Airbus 380 from Korean Airlines. It was madness and to make matters worse there were hundreds of people in front of us. It’s understandable that it takes time to process two full planes. However, there are about 68 different inspection stations for Customs and Border Protection at Tom Bradley International and only 22 were staffed–that’s less than a third.
Foreign passengers were waiting up to two and a half hours! You don’t need a World Economic Forum study to determine that this is unacceptable. And the impact of that “greeting” to our foreign visitors has had a substantial impact on lost opportunities, jobs, revenues and relationships..
We’ve had a lost decade of visitors because we weren’t perceived as, nor were we, welcoming. That lost decade translates to millions of jobs lost in our country.
And let’s not forget the often harsh concept of reciprocity. For example, consider Argentina. For an American tourist visiting this beautiful South American country, it now requires a $131 payment to enter. Why? because that is what the U.S. charges Argentinians to enter the U.S. This is an unacceptable barrier to entry.
But there is some good news: a year ago, the average wait time for a Chinese, Russian, Indian or Brazilian citizen to get a visa to visit the U.S. was a ridiculous 160 days. Many, if not most prospective tourists and business travelers simply gave up trying to come here. Then, the U.S. State Department realized the economic impact of all of this. They reassigned consular affairs officers to staff the problem and now, the average wait time for a U.S. visa has dropped to just two days.
Now, if we can only welcome these visitors when they get off the plane!