few weeks ago, at the height of the
intra-NATO dispute, I wrote in this space about French, German and
Belgian suppliers who were manning the booths at a consumer travel
show in New York.
I asked them how they expected to be received by Americans,
whether they were worried the transatlantic feud would hurt their
business and whether any consumers who attended the show had
discussed politics with them.
It turns out they were nervous about how they would be received.
They also were concerned about loss of business. And yes, a few
consumers did ask them pointed questions about how welcome
Americans would be in their countries.
Last week I attended ITB, the largest travel show in the world,
held annually in Berlin each March. It's both a trade show and a
consumer show, and each year an American pavilion, coordinated with
the assistance of the Travel Industry of America, dominates one of
I wondered how U.S. suppliers at a German consumer travel show
would answer the same questions I had asked German suppliers at the
U.S. show. So I entered Hall 4.
One might think it's difficult to market Texas in a country
where 95% of the population opposes the policies of George W. Bush,
but Brad Smyth, Europe sales and marketing manager for Texas
Economic Development, says he isn't overly concerned about luring
Germans to the Lone Star State. "It's our second-largest overseas
market," Smyth said.
Smyth is confident any downturn in incoming traffic will be
short-lived. "We're looking at a rebound next year," he said.
"Especially if the dollar continues to be weak against the euro,
and there's pent-up demand due to a war."
In the Florida booth, Eileen Forrow of Visit Florida seemed as
concerned with the recent trend for Germans to travel farther into
the U.S. -- rather than stay on the East Coast -- as she is with
the short-term prospect of war.
Still, she said significant thought has been given to
contingency plans for war. "If we go [into Iraq], all bets are off.
We'd probably see a 10% to 20% drop-off right away. If that
happens, we'll shift our focus in-state, then expand to what we
call 'near-drive' states, then finally push on to the 25 cities
east of the Mississippi that we consider to be our core."
One German national who asked that her name be withheld was
manning a regional U.S. booth. She said she has heard some
anti-American comments at the show, but not as many as she had
anticipated. More disconcerting to her was that several people told
her they were simply afraid to go to America.
Linda Fort, vice president of the Palm Springs (Calif.) Bureau
of Tourism, was the only person I spoke with who admitted to being
"a little apprehensive" about coming to Germany. But she said she's
met only "the most friendly people," and believes that "the media
is scaring the public, and hurting the travel industry."
Sandy Parker, owner/manager of the Best Western Sutter House in
Sacramento, Calif., said that Germans only represented about 5% of
her customer base, but she loves them and wants to see that number
increase. "They're great guests -- they really take care of our
As for potential war, she's fatalistic. "Germans love to travel,
and they'll feel safer in the U.S. than say, Turkey. We should let
our political leaders sort out the problems -- we'll enjoy life
On the whole, this group expressed less concern than German
suppliers that policy disagreements would affect their business.
Perhaps it's a reflection of the attitude expressed by many Germans
with whom I spoke. They were less anti-American than anti-American
Is the distinction important? It certainly is to the segment of
the industry interested in inbound traffic. But it seems lost on
those calling for a boycott of travel to France and Germany.
Avoiding travel to countries that disagree with us on Iraq may
sound appealing to them, but one should remember that it's a tactic
that can easily be duplicated by nations on both sides of the
issue. And if it is, the world will suddenly become very small.