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Measure would create agency to promote travel to U.S.

By Therese Hart SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 1, 2009) – REPRESENTATIVES from insular territories yesterday sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer regarding their concerns with S. 1023, also known as "Travel Promotion Act of 2009."

S. 1023, which would create a non-profit organization that would promote overseas travel to the United States, does not include the territories in the defined mission of this Corporation, which is "to ensure that international travel benefits all States and the District of Columbia."

The letter was signed by Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Congresswoman Donna M. Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Congressman Eni Faleomavaega of American Samao, Congressman Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico, and Congressman Kilili Sablan of the CNMI.

The bill would allow Congress to charge visitors to the U.S. a $10 entry fee.

If implemented the $10 tourism sponsorship fee would be linked to the electronic system for travel authorization pre-registration enhanced security requirement system currently required for all visitors from visa waiver countries. For example, a family of five will have to pay $50, just for the right to travel to the U.S., on top of any new luggage fees imposed by the airlines.

Concerns brought up by some industry leaders is the fact that if implemented through the electronic system travel authorization, paying the $10 fee will most likely require a debit or credit card, something not everyone abroad uses. The electronic system for travel authorization requires a computer to access, thus locking out anyone without Internet access.

In the letter, Bordallo and her colleagues urged Pelosi to adopt language in S. 1023 that would include Guam and the territories in the defined mission of this organization.

To help fund the corporation's work, a $10 fee would be charged to foreign travelers who are exempt from having to pay the $131 fee for a visa to enter the country.

Bordallo and her colleagues also urged Pelosi to adopt language that would allow the territories to collect a fee instead of the federal government travel and tourism promotion in the territories.

Additionally, the territories’ representatives requested that language be considered requiring the appointment of one individual from the territories to the Board of the Corporation.

"While the Travel and Promotion Act is intended to promote travel to the United States, we are concerned that the unique needs of the territories are not adequately addressed in the Senate’s bill," said Bordallo.

"We asked the House leadership to address our concerns as this bill progresses. We stressed that tourism is an important part of the economies in the territories and we hope to benefit from the Travel Promotion Act of 2009," said the congresswoman.

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