"This is how you do it. You get your facts together, then you say, Senator Windbag, tourism is a $600 billion industry in the U.S. and has created 7.3 million jobs. If it were to have its own department, it would expand by X%, and for every $X invested, another 100,000 jobs would be created. Are you for creating a Dept. of Travel and Tourism, yes or no?

The speaker, former Sen. Bob Kerry of Nebraska, was responding to a question from Ted Balesteri, a former chair of the National Restaurant Association, about what it would take to get a cabinet-level position for the travel industry.

Kerry then went on to describe what he characterized as the atomic option if a senator doesnt give a direct answer. If theres no commitment, you must say that which every politician lives in fear of hearing: If you dont support this, Senator Blowhard, we wont vote for you.

Among those listening to Kerrys response were three men who, one would think, dont need a primer in lobbying: Roger Dow, president of the Travel Industry Association (TIA); John Tisch, Loews Hotels CEO and chairman of the Travel Business Roundtable (TBR); and Vince Wolfington, CEO of Carey Limousine and chairman of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

Together, these three Americans head the most powerful industry associations in the world. The TBR and TIA already have a formal lobbying alliance, and the TBR feels close enough to the WTTC to have invited its membership to its member lunch last week, and to provide it with a platform to announce that the WTTC will be holding its Global Summit next year in Washington.

Before making the announcement about the summits location, Wolfington told me that in choosing Washington he hoped that the international community would come to recognize that the U.S. government was not the Darth Vader of international diplomacy, always creating environments that were detrimental to tourism.

From my point of view, its not necessarily just foreigners who believe that our government lacks insight into how its policies affect tourism. The day of the luncheon (where Sen. Kerry made his remarks), I was dismayed to open my morning paper and read that the President was advising Americans to conserve energy by avoiding trips that are not essential.

In other words, skip the fall foliage and cancel that family reunion -- just say no to elective travel. I understand that there must be a balance between energy needs and tourism needs, just as I understand that there must be a balance between security needs and tourism needs.

But I also believe that the absence of an official tourism director in Washington who could explain the industry impact of government policy has unnecessarily damaged the countrys economy as well as its image abroad.

President Bush may not be Darth Vader. But his attitude toward travel and tourism -- especially in contrast to other industries near and dear to his heart -- is not only indifference, it is profound indifference.

Privately, industry leaders tell me that a cabinet-level position for our industry is unrealistic. But they add that contacts at very high levels have been made in an effort to establish a public-private Presidential Advisory Council on Travel and Tourism.

Unfortunately, I also understand that months have gone by with no progress report from the administration officials who had been contacted.

From public statements made by trade groups, it would appear that lobbying efforts thus far have been all carrot, no stick. It would also appear that we have not received any commitment for even our compromise position.

In good times or bad, the energy industry, in various forms, gets this administrations attention. Perhaps we can borrow from their lexicon, as well as their tactics.

In other words, if were not getting any commitment, perhaps, as Sen. Kerry alluded, its time to go atomic.


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