Welcome to America, where officials who work for the Department of Homeland Security, which was set up after the 2001 terrorist attacks, have a major image problem.
In a recent poll of international travellers, commissioned by Discover America Partnership, a coalition of US tourist organisations, 70 per cent of respondents said they feared US officials more than terrorists or criminals. Another 66 per cent worried they would be detained for some minor blunder, such as wrongly filling out an official form or being mistaken for a terrorist, while 55 per cent say officials are "rude."
"We are citizens of a country regarded as one of the closest allies the US has," frequent British visitor Ian Jeffrey told the Orlando Sentinel last November. "Yet on arrival we are treated like suspects in a criminal investigation and made to feel very unwelcome."
Such comments, and the poll results - which rate the US by a 2:1 margin as the world's "most unfriendly" destination for foreign travellers - are found in "A Blueprint to Discover America," [.pdf] unveiled in January by Discover America Partnership to halt a dramatic decline in foreign visitors.
According to the blueprint overseas travel to the US has slumped 17 per cent since 2001, even as world travel to other countries reaches historic growth levels. The decline has cost US$94 billion ($127 billion) in visitor spending, US$16 billion in tax receipts, and some 194,000 American jobs. Many poll respondents said that visiting the US had become a hassle and that they would take their holiday money elsewhere.