Be Kind to a Tourist Today

It's both sad and exhilarating that private industry — in this case, the hospitality business — may be able to accomplish what heads of state, politicians and bureaucrats can't. The tourism industry last month launched an ambitious campaign that in simple terms hopes to promote world peace through travel. The Discover America Partnership, a coalition of companies as diverse as Marriott and Anheuser-Busch, aims to leverage the power of travel and tourism to create what the group calls “people-to-people” diplomacy by attracting 10 million additional international travelers to the U.S. annually.

Cynics will say this is merely a ploy for the hospitality business to get more customers and increase profits. While it's true that dollars and cents are a concern, the issue goes way beyond business. The fact is, however, that the U.S. travel industry — and that means you, whether you own, operate or work in a hotel or supply goods and services to the trade — has lost significant market share in recent years. Last year alone, U.S. tourism revenue from overseas visitors dropped by $43 billion. And even more appalling is the fact that the international tourism balance of trade (the difference in international tourism dollars spent in the U.S. and what American travelers spend abroad) fell from $26.3 billion in 1996 to $7.4 billion in 2005.

But, as I say, the stakes are even higher in terms of politics, diplomacy and the struggle against worldwide terrorism. We must all face the fact that, for better or worse, a lot of people around the world don't like the U.S. According to one study, in most nations — including many of our traditional allies — favorable opinion of the U.S. is well below 50 percent.

You may have noticed that I'm talking about an unfavorable opinion of America rather than of Americans. In many countries, including Germany, France, Japan and India, many more people have a significantly higher opinion of Americans than they do our country, its leaders and policies.

This is where the Discover America Partnership and, more importantly, you come in. The goal is to invite as many people from around the world to visit the U.S., sample our boundless attractions, become more familiar with our value systems and enjoy our unmatched hospitality.

Stevan Porter, president of InterContinental Hotels Group and chairman of the Partnership, said it best: “Research shows a 42-percent increase in favorability of the U.S. among those who have visited the country. We must do a better job of welcoming international visitors. With each new visitor, we have an opportunity to share what is best about America — our people, our values and our vitality.”

While it's important that industry leaders lead the way in this effort, the campaign will succeed only if all hoteliers (as well as owners of restaurants, retail outlets, car rental franchises and more) understand the goals of the initiative and how they can contribute. The best way, of course, is to provide the kind of American hotel hospitality that, at its best, is unmatched around the world.

You as a hotelier could learn from a property like the Best Western Sterling Inn, a suburban Detroit property that's the subject of this month's cover story, A Day in the Life of a Hotel. Under the leadership of President Victor Martin and Manager Kim Nicholson, this hotel provides a precise, yet homey, style of hospitality that makes all guests, whether they're business travelers or leisure customers, feel safe, welcome and happy to be there.

As hokey as it may sound, hospitality is the universal language of peace. A warm meal, a clean and comfortable place to stay, a smile and a pleasant attitude can turn enemies into friends.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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