From September 8 anyone who holds a passport from one of the 36 visa-waiver nations will have to pay a $14 fee to enable the American government to run a rudimentary background check on them.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program was introduced in 2008 and made mandatory last year. The program was intended to provide an extra layer of security. Intending travelers provide their details to the Department of Homeland Security in advance of their travels, which gives the American authorities time to check the intending traveler's name against the 'no fly' lists and other terrorist databases.

I don't have a problem with the requirement that people who want to visit the United States should provide this information to the government. Ideally the government wouldn't need to know anyone's travel plans and wouldn't need to maintain a database of names, passport numbers and other facts, but information is a key element in the defense against a second September 11 type attack. So it has to be this way.

I do think, however, that asking someone to pay $14 to have their background checked by government officials is, well, not all that welcoming. Remember this charge comes on top of recent additional security measures like finger-printing and photographing all visitors.

Whether foreign visitors feel welcome in America may not matter to many Americans, but I'm sure it's crucially important to those who run businesses in the tourism industry. Those foreign visitors are an important segment of their market and all Americans benefit from the wealth generated and jobs created by foreign tourism.

There is, of course, a balance between security and friendliness. Unfortunately, since September 2001 the balance has tilted much more towards security. Rightly so, although like a lot of people I hate all the extra inconvenience that is now part of flying.

The ESTA is just another layer of inconvenience we Americans have added to tourists from Ireland, Britain, France, Norway, Germany, Japan, Italy and others. Now on top of the inconvenience the American government is going to make ESTA a cost as well as an inconvenience. An extra $14 on top of the other government charges added to all international airline tickets: U.S. International Transportation Tax, U.S. Immigration User Fee, U.S. Customs Fee, U.S. Security Service Fee, and the U.S. A.P.H.I.S. User Fee (something to do with agriculture).

The total of all these taxes is about $50 per ticket (and I've omitted local taxes and airport charges) and now tourists are going to be asked to pay another $14. Only this time they're the only ones paying - to check on themselves. {No ESTA required, thus no charge for American citizens.} Even the most pro-American foreign visitors will find this aggravating. Some may well say, "The heck with that," and go somewhere else.

Who'll be the losers then? The tourists, sure, but so will restaurants, hotels and other tourism businesses in America. It's just not worth it. Keep ESTA free.