he World Economic Forum -- where CEOs and heads of state mix and mingle with academics, scientists and public policy wonks -- took place in Davos, Switzerland, the week before last.

There were more than 260 individual sessions, where attendees debated such weighty topics as "When States Collapse" and "God in Politics." Lest you think it's all ponderous and somber, the agenda also included sessions on "How to Be Hip," for leaders who worried they might be out of touch with youth, and "If You're Happy and You Know It," a panel on the causes of happiness.

Remarkably, none of the topics specifically addressed travel and tourism, but industry issues surfaced nonetheless, thanks, in part, to the forum's co-chair, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chairman of the Carlson Cos.

Nelson told me travel figured prominently in "a long discussion on security issues and managing risks." In another session, she said, the group had a forward-looking "conversation about travel in 2010. There was a lot of focus on what is expected to be a growing number of travelers to and from China and India -- both countries will play a much bigger role in global travel in 2010.

"There was a prediction that the U.S. will grow its share of the world travel and tourism market, primarily because it's perceived as safe and offers lots of variety. It will also benefit as Europe adds more countries and its economic activity increases."

Was there any concern that America's relative safety may be counterbalanced by security concerns and all its attendant hassles?

"People were assuming that by 2010 countries would have settled on some standards and that we'll have found ways to differentiate the tourists from the terrorists," Nelson said. "There's a belief that we will have improved information gathering to the point that we'll be more sensitive to Islamic tourists. The broad-brush treatment they've experienced to date is because of the imprecision of our technology and information."

Nelson said travel and tourism came up again in an interactive forum between attendees and the media. "We had an opportunity to air some grievances about sensationalist reporting." Nelson, whose company owns Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, said there was an exchange that centered around the media's coverage of the Norwalk-like virus on cruise ships. "It was a bad situation made even worse than it had to be. But we had a positive exchange about how news that needs to be heard can be reported without traumatizing the public."

Travel and tourism took center stage when the group was addressed by King Abdullah II of Jordan, she said. "He talked about the attractions in his country: about Petra, about Aqaba, about the Dead Sea. He reminded everyone that Jordan is a stable country."

That a Mideast state bordering Iraq, Syria, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia can make a serious plea for tourism is probably a reflection of the "cautious optimism" Nelson said everyone there was feeling.

"All the indicators are there for a positive future," she said. "But there's also that sense that the geopolitical situation is of a fragile nature."


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