Tell the World About America

Quietly but aggressively, a new coalition of hospitality and tourism leaders is working to improve the industry's standing in Washington. And, unlike past — and mostly unsuccessful — battles with Congess and the White House, the issue isn't just about money or more specificially, the lack of federal money to promote U.S. tourism to the rest of the world.

Led by the indefatigable Jonathan Tisch and including rejuvenated leadership at the Travel Industry Association, as well as support from the AH&LA and other groups, the discussion centers on the generally negative image of the U.S. in the world and the harmful effect it's had on our tourism industry. Other related issues of concern to the coalition include restrictive visa and immigration policies, the effect of homeland security procedures on travel to the U.S. and that old chestnut, the federal government's refusal to adequately fund tourism promotion efforts.

“The world's view of America, Americans and American business is a very real problem with serious consequences for all of us,” said Tisch at last month's New York University Hospitality Industry Investment Conference. Tisch, who is chairman of the event and CEO of Loews Hotels, cited one survey that found more Australians have a positive view of China than of the U.S. And, as he noted, America is now the third most visited destination in the world, behind France and Spain. Fewer visitors to the U.S. mean fewer dollars flowing into your hotels and less profits flowing into your bank accounts.

Tisch, who's also chairman of the Travel Business Roundtable, recently allied that group with TIA, which is now led by former Marriott marketing executive Roger Dow. It's a match made in heaven for the U.S. travel industry. Whereas Tisch is the picture of urbanity and forceful intellect, Dow is a back-slapping marketer from the old school who could sell software to Bill Gates.

The two groups, along with a number of industry and association CEOs, met recently with senior members of Congress and the Bush administration to air their concerns. And, to further cement their alliance, TBR and TIA jointly hired hot-shot lobbyist Chuck Merin to plead the industry's case to the legislators and bureaucrats in D.C.

As talented, knowledgeable and forceful as Tisch and Dow may be, they can't do it alone. As Tisch told the 1,700 movers and shakers at the NYU Conference, “The travel industry is an uptapped force that can play a pivotal role in improving the U.S. image around the world by inviting visitors near and far to experience who we really are and for what we really stand.”

He exhorted the crowd — and the entire tourism business — to apply pressure where possible to spread the message of the importance of travel to the economy and the American way of life. Letters to local newspapers and in-person meetings with your representatives to Congress are two concrete steps you can take to make a difference.

Even more importantly, we need to show those visitors who come to this country all that is great about America and our way of life. And with a preponderance of immigrant owners, the lodging industry can make an even more compelling argument for the American dream.

“We have the ability to influence the hearts and minds of international travelers, to act as ambassadors on the front lines and to help educate people abroad about the very goodness, generosity and compassion of our nation,” Tisch added. While it's a problem we face as a nation and as an industry, it's one we can solve together.

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