Before the start of the World Cup game between the U.S. and Ghana in Nuremberg, Germany, last month, I was standing in a beer line behind two young Americans. They were excited. We are so going to beat them in chanting, one said to the other.

I gave an involuntary laugh at this expression of diminished expectations, and they both turned around. Neither was smiling. What? Whats so funny? one of them wanted to know.

Chanting? Is that it? Dont you want the U.S. to win the game? I asked.

Youll see, the other said. We even beat Italy in chanting.

Earlier during that trip to Germany, I had spent a few days in Bavaria visiting the extraordinary, lavish palaces of King Ludwig II. He was considered insane by his rivals (who, its suspected, eventually murdered him), in part because he spent a small fortune building these residences. But judging by the crowds of tourists drawn to the region each year just to walk through the palaces, one could make the case that his mad spending was an investment that has repaid the Bavarian people many times over in the form of tourism receipts.

Last week, I thought back to these experiences after speaking with TIA President Roger Dow on the eve of that organizations summer board meeting. Dow had gone over the organizations political activities regarding public diplomacy and support for inbound U.S. tourism, and I got the sense that the organization was finally rising to an ambition greater than chanting, and perhaps even was drawing on the longer-view lessons of mad King Ludwig.

Recognizing how the industry had until recently found comfort in diminished expectations, Dow said, People have been excited, talking about how we had once again reached pre-9/11 numbers. Thats dismal.

Go back a little further. In 1994, we had, globally, 9% market share of international travelers. Today we have 6%. If we had 9% today, wed have 75 million visitors rather than 50 million.

Dow believes weve been good at chanting. Lots of talk, lots of ideas have come out of industrywide initiatives, he said. But when the meetings were over, nothing happened. No one did the heavy lifting.

Last April, the TIA board approved a $500,000 expenditure to launch the Discover America Partnership, whose goal is to call Congress attention to what the travel industry brings to the table, Dow said.

The partnership will focus on building a case for two propositions: First, that bringing people to the U.S. is a very effective way to improve Americas image abroad, and second, that investment in tourism has attractive returns.

The heavy lifting, Dow believes, is to document the answers to 80 questions. On the public diplomacy front, he wants data that will show how visitors perceptions of America change after a visit and how they share those views with their friends and family back home. On the investment side, he wants to document where the U.S. stands as an inbound destination and how countries that have gained market share at Americas expense have promoted themselves. He also wants to gather firm numbers about industry-related job creation, tourist spending and contributions to tax revenues.

Dow must keep an eye on the clock. While acknowledging that the Bush administrations cowboy diplomacy helped create Americas image crisis, he also believes some Bush insiders understand the problems now and will work to alleviate it.

We need to get this done now, he said. When you start with a new administration, you always start from scratch.

He secured Steve Porter, InterContinental Hotels Groups president for the Americas, to chair the Discover America Partnership and hired Geoffrey Freeman, who has run public advocacy programs for the pharmaceutical industry, to see it through. Porter, Freeman and Dow must recruit 19 executives for the partnership committee, and each recruit must work to help replenish the $500,000 investment. Dow hopes to have that phase done before the partnerships official September launch.

He also wants the 80 questions answered before the TIA Unity Dinner in January. The group will then have just two years to win full administration support -- and, more importantly, Congressional support -- before the administration changes.

Its ambitious. It will certainly require more than just chanting. It might even require some inspired madness.


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