It's difficult not to put all your eggs in one basket if there is only one basket available. Currently, Republicans control both legislative chambers and the White House, and travel industry lobbyists have duly taken note. If, however, the Republicans were to lose the House and/or the Senate in the upcoming elections, would that be good or bad for the travel industry?

Last year, a reinvigorated TIA allied with the Travel Business Roundtable in lobbying Congress, and it is now also joined at the hip with TBR and the World Travel and Tourism Council in approaching the executive branch.

There has been some progress. The industry associations courted the administration to try to raise awareness of the importance of travel and tourism to both the economy and public diplomacy, and the administration responded by dispatching no fewer than four cabinet members and a special advisor to the president to address the WTTC summit in Washington last April. And this month, the deadline extension of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative passed after intense industry lobbying.

One other activity of note occurred last month, when the industry luminaries on the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board sent Commerce Secretary Carlos Guttierrez recommendations on "Restoring America's Travel Brand."

Much of what has occurred has been symbolic in nature. TIA's president, Roger Dow, has said all along that the time frame for concrete political results has a long tail, but he also wants to see substantial progress before President Bush's term ends. "When you start with a new administration, you always start from scratch," he told me last July.

So, if the House and/or Senate go Democrat, and the president's influence wanes, would that be a setback for the industry?

WTTC last week released a "manifesto" that outlined negative trends regarding inbound tourism that need to be addressed. Since the president has taken office, the U.S. world market share for tourism has fallen from above 30% to 25.5%, according to a WTTC/Accenture study released in conjunction with the manifesto. The document made a case for an investment in promoting the U.S., reinforcing the messages coming out of TIA's Discover America Partnership.

Though outgoing WTTC chairman Vince Wolfington has made public references to the damage done to tourism by the "Fortress America" immigration mentality and Dow has acknowledged the negative effects of the president's "cowboy diplomacy," the two have been careful not to directly blame the administration for America's loss of tourism market share.

They left the job of emphatically linking the loss of visitors and American domestic and foreign policy to Keith Reinhard, president of Business for Diplomatic Action (and chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide, the largest advertising agency in the world), who addressed a joint WTTC/TBR lunch last week. In his speech (Dow was in the audience, applauding), Reinhard gave examples of how animosity toward our policies has been transferred to Americans and our nation as a whole, with the result that fewer people want to visit the U.S. "It is now politically correct to dump on America," he said.

Regarding politicians, he didn't exactly say "Throw the bums out!" But he did say that if he were still in a corporate setting and saw a similar decline in brand image (as represented by inbound visitor numbers), he would recommend "firing the agency without review."

WTTC's president, Jean-Claude Baumgarten, suggested to me that a change in party leadership in one or both of the chambers might represent a "golden opportunity."

"The administration has a one-track mind," Baumgarten said. "If they can no longer pursue their agenda, they will pursue the president's legacy. And he has a legacy problem. In the eyes of the world, he's the war president who screwed up, who built Fortress America. We can help him out here. If he works with travel and tourism, through public diplomacy, we can help turn that around."

Perhaps, and that would be a big positive should there be changes in Congress. But despite our nation's global presence and aggressive foreign policy, the president does not strike me as an internationalist who necessarily cares about what his critics abroad think.

Solidifying a legacy is a lot like burnishing a brand. Back when he was still the active chairman of DDB, Reinhard told me that a branding position cannot succeed if it is not rooted in reality. If there is a change in the House or Senate, for the industry to benefit from a subsequent presidential focus on legacy-building, the president would have to convince the world that he cares what they think.

Thus far, he has not put many eggs in that particular basket.


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