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Welcome to America ... from Mickey the immigration officer

UK Daily Mail | May 13, 2007 
STEPHEN ADAMS

America's surly immigration officers are to get charm offensive lessons from Disney to lure back tourists put off by their intimidating 'welcome'.

They will be given tips from the creators of Mickey Mouse following falling visitor numbers - and a survey that revealed 70 per cent of those who have dropped the US as a destination cite an aggressive reception as the reason.

Since security was stepped up after 9/11, British visitors have complained of mistreatment at airport immigration, exceptionally long queues and excessive interrogations.

And with ten American airports set to take electronic prints from every finger of foreign arrivals - not just the two index fingers as at present - there are fears even more travellers will shun the States.

But now officials are responding to the criticism by employing Disney's recipe for tirelessly upbeat and helpful customer service in an attempt to get the free-spending British back, particularly with the pound at nearly two dollars.

Immigration officers will be taught the secrets of Disney theme parks by learning how to welcome visitors, manage large queues and respond to 'negative reaction' from the public without letting their smiles slip.

A spokeswoman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement last night confirmed the initiative.

She said: "There has been a problem in the way we have been perceived in countries including Britain, and we are working very closely with Disney.

"They have offered suggestions about how we can improve the entire arrivals process."

The move is being run by the Discover America Partnership, set up by the US Government to tackle what it calls the nation's 'image crisis' abroad. It aims to attract ten million more visitors a year to the US.

James Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks And Resorts said: "These efforts will result in a friendly and more welcoming experience for visitors and we expect them to attract more people."

The partnership was welcomed last night by Mail on Sunday travel editor Frank Barrett. He said: "The US urgently needs to tackle the problem of the way visitors are treated when they arrive."

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