The US Travel Association, the Washington-based non-profit organisation which represents all sectors of the travel industry, aims is to promote and facilitate increased travel to and within the United States.
But it warned today that the new Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) forms, which replace the I-94W forms used by countries with a visa-waiver agreement, have been poorly communicated and do not take into account those people who are not computer-literate. The forms must be completed by British travellers at least 72 hours before departure.
“America’s travel community supports the ESTA for its potential to improve security and increase convenience for travellers from visa waiver countries,” said Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the US Travel Association. “However, we are concerned that many of those who must comply with ESTA are not aware of it, do not fully understand what it is, or may be turned away at airports for non-compliance if the new requirements are fully enforced.
The Foreign Office warned last week that passengers arriving in the US faced the possibility of being turned away by American immigration officials if they had not completed the online application, but US authorities appear to have granted a period of grace so far.
Heathrow’s transatlantic flights departed without major incident since the new regulations were introduced on Monday. But a spokesman for the US Embassy in London warned that this “period of leniency” may only last for a matter of days, after which the regulations would be enforced.
A recent survey by the online comparison website, Travelsupermarket.com, today suggested that 57 per cent of Britons were still unaware of the new entry requirements.
“This type of change in policy needs a sufficiently funded, robust communications campaign. Moreover, the program lacks alternatives for travellers and travel agents without access to the Internet, or for individuals who have not filled out this authorisation to travel in advance of their arrival at the airport.
“Two-thirds of overseas visitors to the US came from countries being affected by the new ESTA rules. These international travellers spend on average $4,000 per person, per trip – generating billions of dollars in spending each year that feeds our economy and sustains millions of American jobs. At a time when our economy is struggling, we cannot afford to deter legitimate travel to our country by fuelling negative perceptions that it is simply too complicated and difficult to travel to the US for business or pleasure.”