Image: JFK Airport
Chris Hondros  /  Getty Images
International visitors have complained about long lines at airports and at times unpleasant interactions with U.S. Customs officials. Under a new program, travelers to New York City will see large welcome signs as they disembark and workers will offer greetings, maps and information after passengers pass through customs.
updated 8/29/2007 3:22:26 PM ET 2007-08-29T19:22:26

Concerned with a decline in the number of international travelers visiting the United States, New York City is launching a welcome program meant to polish the city's image and greet tourists before they leave the airport, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Wednesday.

International visitors have complained about long lines at airports and at times unpleasant interactions with U.S. Customs officials. Under the new program, travelers will see large welcome signs as they disembark and workers will offer greetings, maps and information after passengers pass through customs.

A larger marketing campaign urges visitors to "Just Ask The Locals," with advice from celebrity residents including Robert DeNiro, Julianne Moore and former professional football player Tiki Barber.

With many prospective visitors having the idea that New Yorkers are rude, the city's tourism office, NYC & Company, is sending teams of "ambassadors" into the streets to pass out cards with tips on how best to navigate the crowded city.

Federal legislation signed this month, pushed heavily by the national travel industry, also aims to offer assistance to foreign visitors on arrival, reduce their wait times at airports and train U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in traveler relations. The changes will be made at the 20 U.S. airports that receive the most international arrivals.

The programs are a response to a drop in visits to the U.S. from countries outside of Canada and Mexico. In 2006, 21.7 million overseas visitors came to the U.S. _ down 17 percent from a peak of 26 million in 2000, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. In the same period, cross-border travel around the world was up about 20 percent.

New York's initiative is being launched at just one John F. Kennedy International Airport terminal, but tourism officials hope to expand to other arrival points. The city wants to raise the number of tourists visiting New York each year from 44 million to 50 million by 2015.

NYC & Company has already doubled its international presence this year, launching operations in Shanghai, Tokyo, Madrid, Moscow, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Seoul.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Take a Bite Out of The Big Apple

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  1. A full moon rises over the skyline of New York City, as seen across the Hudson River in Weehawken, N.J., on April 25, 2013. (Gary Hershorn / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Commuters move through the grand hall of Grand Central Terminal in New York City on Jan. 25, 2013. Since its grand beginnings in 1913, when it was dubbed the greatest railway terminal in the world with an $80 million price tag, Grand Central has been an integral part of New York City. (Brendan Mcdermid / REUTERS) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Revelers cheers under falling confetti at the stroke of midnight during the New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square on Jan. 1, 2014. (John Minchillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. One World Trade Center overlooks the wedge-shaped pavilion entrance of the National September 11 Museum, lower right, and the square outlines of the memorial waterfalls in New York. (Mark Lennihan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees walks back to the dugout after flying out in the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians on June 13, 2011, at Yankee Stadium. Located in the South Bronx, the new stadium opened in 2009. (Jim Mcisaac / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Central Park was the first public park built in America. Its 843 acres include woodlands, lawns and water. Central Park was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and a New York City Landmark in 1974. More than 25 million visitors enjoy Central Park each year. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Saint Patrick's Cathedral is the largest decorated gothic-style Catholic cathedral in the U.S. The cathedral's construction began in 1858, and it opened its doors in 1879. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Skaters glide around the rink at the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink. The ice rink, open between October and April, has attracted more than 250,000 people a year since it first opened on Dec. 25, 1936. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Patrons line up outside the Apollo Theater in Harlem to see Amateur Night. Since 1934, Amateur Night at the Apollo has launched the careers of famous entertainers such as Billie Holiday, James Brown, The Isley Brothers, Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill, and many others. (Jonathan D. Woods / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The South Pool at the National September 11 Memorial in New York City commemorates those who died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks after two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center. (Justin Lane / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Pedestrians pass along a walkway under falling snow on the Brooklyn Bridge on Jan. 3, 2014, in New York. One of the oldest suspension bridges in the U.S., the Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. (John Minchillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Statue of Liberty looms over a visitor as he uses binoculars to look out onto New York Harbor on Oct. 13, 2013, in New York. About 4 million people visit the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island each year. (John Minchillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Coney Island features entertainment parks, rides, an aquarium, a public beach, a boardwalk, fishing and Nathan's restaurant. (John Minchillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. New York City Subway dancer Marcus Walden aka "Mr Wiggles" performs acrobatic tricks on the subway while passengers watch Nov. 23, 2010. More than 4.3 million people ride the New York subway system every day. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the southern tip of two-mile-long Roosevelt Island - between Manhattan and Queens - was dedicated in 2012. (Paul Warchol / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York has been around since 1924 and includes large balloons, floats and performances. (Gary Hershorn / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Visitors view the Manhattan skyline from Rockefeller Center's "Top of the Rock" observation deck. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Pedestrians walk along a path on the High Line park on June 7, 2011, in New York City. The High Line was formerly an elevated railway 30 feet above the city's West Side that was built in 1934 for freight trains. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The moon rises at sunset behind New York's Empire State building, which opened in 1931. At 102 stories high, the Empire State Building is the fourth tallest skyscraper in America. (Gary Hershorn / REUTERS) Back to slideshow navigation
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