A senior US business leader has renewed calls for improvements at US customs to cut waiting times for arriving visitors to no more than 30 minutes.

Tom Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, said it was essential to “reduce the hassle factor” at welcoming points and said more improvements needed to be made.

Speaking at the International Pow Wow trade show in Orlando, Donohue admitted that the trauma of 9/11 had “left us less than hospitable to our foreigh visitors” but insisted “we are working to fix it”.

The US Chamber of Commerce has worked alongside the national tourism body US Travel and was instrumental in gaining approval for the US Travel Promotion Act.

Donohue said a survey carried out by US Travel and Oxford Economics revealed a 2.4 million decline in visitor numbers over the first 10 years of the millennium, and he added: “America cannot afford another lost decade”.

US Travel chief executive Roger Dow told Pow Wow delegates that a series of setbacks including the Icelandic ash cloud, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and huge floods in Nashville must not dent tourism.

“The message we need to get out there is that these destinations are still open for business,” he said.