ORLANDO -- For years, the British have been loyal to Four Corners, coming here in droves and making up a good share of the tourists who stay at vacation-rental properties.
That has David Leather nervous.
Leather, who came to Central Florida from the United Kingdom to start a business, is worried that increased security measures at American airports are doing anything but sending out a welcome mat to British tourists.
"We, as tourists, have not always been made to feel welcome when we come here," said Leather, who runs Hayes Vacation Homes, a property-management company and is the president of the Central Florida Property Managers Association.
"Tourism is still the No. 1 industry in the Four Corners area, so don't knock the hand that feeds you," Leather said.
Property managers are increasingly concerned about the unsure future of the visa waiver program, which enables tourists and business travelers from foreign nations to visit the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa.
Established in 1986 to eliminate unnecessary barriers to travel, it also was designed to stimulate tourism by making it easier for foreign travelers to come to the United States.
Leather said he's increasingly worried that British tourists are getting fed up with the treatment they receive at American airports, including Orlando International.
"For the Americans amongst us, when you go to England, you simply walk up to the customs officer - a nice man in a nice suit - show him your passport and walk through," Leather said.
"What do you think we as foreigners have to go through at Orlando International?" he asked.
What has many British tourists angry, he said, is the requirement that they get fingerprinted before they can enter the United States.
"In England, unless you're charged with a crime, the police can't take your fingerprints," he said. "Not so, here. Every time you come here, you have to wait in line for an hour - and then you're stopped by a man with a gun."
Leather said the process of being detained and fingerprinted by armed security can be frustrating and embarrassing for a British family coming here to spend money at hotels, restaurants and theme parks.
"That's not regarded as a real welcoming intro," Leather said. "It's getting to the point where the press are picking up on this in England, and making a big song and dance out of this."
It's also having another effect, Leather said: "It's starting to turn people away."
In the past, Leather said, every aspect of the Central Florida economy has benefited from the visa waiver program from accommodations to attractions to the airports.
But since many visitors from Britain and other countries eligible for the visa waiver program tend to favor longer stays in vacation homes rather than hotels or motels, the vacation-rental industry stands to lose quite a bit if this market takes its money elsewhere.
Leather said it costs an average of $1,600 for a family of four from the north of England to get a visa to visit the United States, once travel expenses to the American embassy, visa applications and lost wages have been factored in.
That is "the same as the four-person, four-day park hopper tickets," he said.
"People will not pay that kind of money. They simply will go somewhere else. The (local) economy will take a severe knock should that visa waiver program be abolished."
Michael Freeman can be reached at email@example.com or 863-421-5577.