A new study shows that foreign travelers find entering the United States to be both a fearful and frustrating experience.

The study, which was conducted by the polling firm RT Strategies for the Discover America Partnership, came up with a number of key findings, including: Travelers rate the U.S. entry process the “world’s worst” by a two-to-one margin over the next-worst destination; they are more likely to worry about immigration officials than crime or terrorism when considering whether to visit the U.S.; and two-thirds of travelers surveyed are afraid of being detained at a U.S. border because of a misstatement or other simple mistake.

“This study should be a wake-up call for the U.S. government,” said Geoff Freeman, executive director of the Discover America Partnership, in a release announcing the survey results. “Visiting the United States and interacting with the American people can have a powerful, positive effect on how non-U.S. residents see our country. Unfortunately, perceptions of a ‘rude’ and ‘arrogant’ entry process are turning away travelers and harming America’s image.”

The survey also found that once travelers get beyond the entry process, their experiences in the United States are positive. Sixty-three percent, for example, said they felt more favorable towards the United States as a result of their visit, while 74 percent are more likely to have an extremely favorable opinion of the U.S. versus those who have not visited recently.

During a conference call accompanying the release of the results, Freeman said the survey is “a prescription for change, a prescription for public diplomacy.

“One of the worst things we can do is maintain the current entry policy that is turning these visitors off,” Freeman said. He added that it should take only minor changes in policy to turn some of these attitudes around.

For example, he pointed out that the survey found that travelers who need visas to enter the U.S. are willing to wait 46 days, on average, to get that visa. This is a longer time period than the U.S. State Department standard, but months shorter than current wait times in several countries. It also found that visitors expect “clear communications, respect, and courteous treatment,” from U.S. immigration officials, but not any kind of reduction in security standards.

Making the necessary changes to meet visitors' expections is “not like shooting for the moon,” Freeman said, adding that the key will be to get U.S. policymakers to “accept that there is a problem at hand.”

The Discover America Partnership was formed in September, 2006, and consists of the heads of various U.S. travel and tourism industry leaders, including the American Hotel and Lodging Association, The Travel Industry Association, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and Marriott International. The survey was conducted in late October and early November, and more than 2,000 travelers from 15 countries participated.

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