The United States is now the “world’s worst” when it comes to discouraging foreign business and tourist visitors, according to a new survey by the Discover America Partnership.

The survey, conducted by independent polling firm RT Strategies and based on responses of more than 2,000 travelers worldwide, found that the U.S. visa entry process has created a climate of fear and frustration that is turning away foreign business and leisure travelers from visiting the United States, and damaging America’s image abroad.

But minor improvements in welcoming travelers could yield substantial diplomatic and economic gains, the survey says, because people who have visited the U.S. and interacted with the American people are 74 percent more likely to have an extremely favorable opinion of the U.S.

“This study should be a wake-up call for the U.S. government,” said Geoff Freeman, executive director of the Discover America Partnership. “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.”

Among the study’s key findings:
• Travelers rate America’s entry process as the “world’s worst” by greater than a two-to-one margin over the next-worst destination area.
• The U.S. ranks with Africa and the Middle East when it comes to traveler-friendly paperwork and officials.
• More than half (54 percent) of international travelers say that immigration officials are rude.
• Travelers to the U.S. are more afraid of U.S. government officials than the threat of terrorism or crime.
• Two-thirds of travelers surveyed fear they will be detained at the border because of a simple mistake or misstatement.

“Foreign travelers are in agreement: the U.S. entry process is unpredictable and unfriendly to foreign visitors, it is hurting America’s image abroad and deterring many from visiting the U.S.,” says Thomas Riehle, partner of RT Strategies. “These survey results help to explain the 17 percent decline in overseas travel to the U.S. over the past five years and the 10 percent decline in business travel to the U.S. over the past year.”

The Discover America Partnership was launched in September 2006 by American business leaders, who have challenged the U.S. to welcome an additional 10 million more visitors annually.