Earlier this year, Jon Tisch and Roger Dow planned to spend a day in Washington together, visiting seven U.S. senators. Tisch, CEO of Loews Hotels, is also chair of the Travel Business Roundtable, and TBR had recently agreed to coordinate lobbying efforts with the Travel Industry Association (TIA), led by Dow.

The purpose of the meetings was to discuss how the government might work with the private sector to promote travel and tourism. The appointments had been arranged with the assistance of Chuck Merin, a managing director of the political consulting firm Black Kelly Scruggs & Healey.

But the day before they were to make the rounds, Tisch began feeling unwell, and he let Dow and Merin know he wasnt going to be able to join them. Dow was prepared to go ahead with the meetings, but as a courtesy, Merin phoned the senators to let them know Tisch would not be attending the appointments.

Upon hearing the news, all the senators but one -- Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi -- promptly canceled the meetings.

Dow speculates that the other senators likely accepted the appointments in the hope of getting political contributions from Tisch, who is very active in politics.

Roger Dow is not politically naive. He certainly must have known that having Tisch along would help get a foot in the door. But he did not anticipate that without Tisch, the U.S. travel industry -- with an annual economic impact valued at $599 billion -- would suddenly find doors slammed in the face of its top representative.

If I were with the National Rifle Association, they would have seen me, Dow mused.

It would appear that the travel industry is the Rodney Dangerfield of lobbying forces -- we get no respect. This is not a surprise to anyone who remembers when, two years ago, Congress cut an appropriation to promote travel and tourism from $50 million to $6 million.

This year, that $6 million was upped to $9.8 million, but to put this in perspective, Dow says that he met a professor at an agricultural school who received $10 million to study manure management.

And to put that into perspective, one should remember that the Department of Agriculture is a cabinet-level position, while the interests of the travel industry are in the hands of a Commerce Department bureaucrat with the title deputy assistant secretary for service industries, tourism and finance, who is, by law, not allowed to advocate on behalf of tourism.

The disrespect for -- or, if viewed more benignly, lack of understanding of -- travel and tourism is not restricted to the upper chamber of the legislative branch. Dow met with representatives of the executive branch, who assured him that the presidents behind you -- he enjoys a good vacation now and then.

A good vacation! Dow was now fuming, not musing. Were so much more than that. Dont they understand the importance of business travel?

Just as Mr. Smith went to Washington and learned a thing or two, Mr. Dows experiences have led him to formulate a plan.

Political action occurs, he understands, when an industry has a political action war chest.

Itll take two or three years, he said, but weve got to do it.

Hooray for Roger Dow. It has been painful watching our impotent industry do little more than grovel before the power brokers in Washington for a few coins.

In the present environment, a cabinet-level Department of Tourism is a pipe dream. But insiders believe a Presidential Advisory Council is not an unrealistic goal. It would be a good first step, perhaps the equivalent of manure management.

But if you really want to stop, rather than manage, the B.S., a United States Travel and Tourism Board must be the ultimate goal.


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