Crash: 100 million US visitors stuck in long airport lines eye other places to visit

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Dionne G. from U.S. Travel on Vimeo.

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Long customs lines and delays at American airports are prompting nearly 100 million overseas travelers to consider other countries to visit, jeopardizing over 500,000 U.S. jobs dedicated to handling tourists and businesspeople from other nations, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

In a new campaign to build support for greater funding of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, U.S. Travel has released a poll and series of video testimonials from visitors to highlight the impact of staffing cutbacks at international airports.

The bottom line, the group told Secrets: Travelers are avoiding the U.S. "By experience and word-of-mouth, nearly 100 million overseas travelers are getting the message to avoid travel to the United States — putting at risk $95 billion and 518,900 jobs across the country," said the group.

To help draw attention to the growing problem, U.S. Travel has just announced a new website, travelersvoice.org, that features video messages from international travelers taped immediately after going through customs. Most complain about the long lines they faced and recommend that Customs hire more entry agents.

In one, a woman identified as Dionne G., said that delays she faced "doesn't send a great message" to future U.S. visitors.

"I would say just invest, because obviously people are coming here. They are investing in the economy, so invest in the staffing to make sure that people want to come back and keep investing in the economy," added Ian, a business traveler from Europe, in his message.

One news report out of Texas found that lines at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport stretched to four hours.

"The message could not be more clear. Our international guests think actions like increasing the number of Customs and Border Protection officials would improve and speed the entry process," said Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel. "International travelers visit our country to conduct business, experience our destinations and sites and, most importantly, contribute billions of dollars to our economy. It is deeply concerning that due to a lack of adequate resources our entry procedure is viewed as frustrating and slow by valued international travelers."

His group recently conducted an overseas traveler survey that found many foreigners planning to skip future trips to the U.S. Among the findings:

— 43 percent said they are telling friends and associates to avoid the United States because of the long entry process.

— Two in five business travelers plan to skip future trips to the U.S.

— One in seven missed an airline connection due to long lines.

— A massive drop in foreign visitors could cost the economy $95 billion and jeopardize 518,000 jobs.

The immigration reform bill passed by the Senate includes funding for an additional 3,500 customs officers. Dow urged the House to also consider customs staffing as it works on an immigration bill.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.