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
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
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.
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
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
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.