Travellers will pay the fee upfront when they apply for the Department of Homeland Security's Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which has been mandatory since January for Brits and any other nationalities qualifying for the Visa Waiver scheme. (Holders of U.S. visas, which cost $131 and are only granted after a lengthy application process and an interview, are exempt, as they don't need to fill in the ESTA application.)
According to statements issued on the U.S. Senate Web site , the act is necessary to raise money to promote travel to the States, which in turn will create jobs and bring income to the country's flagging economy.
However, the move is also creating quite a stir among British travellers who've already been hit hard with charges and paperwork. Anybody who has travelled to the U.S. recently under the visa waiver scheme knows the drill: You have to fill in the ESTA application online, but still need to provide much of the same information on the green Visa Waiver form and complete the customs form before you reach the immigration queue. Then you're questioned, photographed and fingerprinted.
Paying an additional $10 for this privilege is not likely to go down well with cruise passengers, many of whom only spend one night in the States en route to their ship. A spokesman for the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA), which represents the interests of all the major cruise lines in the U.K., said to Cruise Critic: “[The tax] will be a further contribution to making fly-cruising increasingly expensive. When added to the new Air Passenger Duty charges, especially from 2010, there's quite a financial burden on holidaymakers travelling to the U.S.A.”
What's ironic is that some of the cash raised from the new act will be used to “better explain U.S. security policies” according to a statement by the press office for U.S. Congress. The money will be collected every two years, when the ESTA comes up for renewal; there is already talk in Congress of raising the cost to $20.
The Travel Promotion Act still has to be ratified by the House of Representatives but given the strong support it had in the Senate, it is likely to pass and go into effect later this year or early in 2010. We'll keep you posted.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic contributing editor