The topic for the panel was Travel
& Tourism: A $1.6 trillion industry in search of an identity,
and we were about 90 minutes into allotted time of an hour and 45
minutes. Tim Zagat, CEO of the Zagat Survey, was seated next to me
on the dais, and as another panelist was answering a question, he
leaned over to whisper in my ear. Theres an elephant in the room,
he said. No ones talking about how our foreign policy impacts
travel and tourism.
afternoon -- and three panels deeper into the World Travel &
Tourism Councils Global Summit -- we passed each other in the
corridor. A herd of elephants! Zagat called over.
As that evenings
dinner event emptied out into the night, I saw him again. A herd? I
We stepped out of
the way as other delegates headed to the hotel buses. Look, he
said, a lot of people here are being incredibly polite. A lot of
people here, really senior people, are ticked off about not being
able to get visas in a reasonable amount of time, or are tired of
being looked at as if theyre a terrorist every time they visit the
Thats one elephant.
Another is that a lot of people dont want to do business here
because of Sarbanes-Oxley. Theyd prefer to go up on the London
The third is that
our government listens in on phone calls. There are a lot of people
who think, Im a foreigner, and they might listen in on my business
calls. Im not saying that they do, but visitors may not have the
same confidence in our government that we do.
Fourth is our
attitude toward treaties. If we disagree with other countries, we
simply say theyre irrelevant. We think were protecting the world
with our innate goodness, but thats not how everyone else sees
Not wanting to
appear politically partisan in his remarks, Zagat amended his
original metaphor. Not just a herd of elephants. A few jackasses,
The next morning,
in her address to delegates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
nodded her head toward one of Tims elephants, though she didnt
quite look it in the eye.
Regarding visa wait
times, she claimed that the U.S. had dramatically decreased the
wait time for visas but also acknowledged that it was only the
beginning, and I understand that.
To give a sense of
how large that elephant still is, a Department of Homeland Security
official told me during the Summit that theres a three-month
waiting period for a citizen of India to get an appointment for an
interview to apply for a U.S. visa, the appointment being just the
very first step in the process.
I spied a few other
elephants in the room, the largest being the lack of government
interest to fund a meaningful U.S. marketing campaign.
On the second day
of the Summit, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez nodded to my
elephant, saying, We can do so much more to promote the U.S. as a
To give a sense of
how large my elephant is, it was also pointed out during the Summit
that the city of Las Vegas spends well over $200 million to promote
just that one city.
In contrast, the
U.S. spends $6 million to promote the entire nation.
In opening the
summit, WTTC Chairman Vince Wolfington said that having four
cabinet secretaries appear before industry leaders was a gesture of
participation but warned that it must be followed by means, money,
action and emphasis to demonstrate that our government understands
the value of travel and tourism -- and that, if it has the will, it
can clear a herd of elephants out of a room.