In his update to members last week, Travel Industry Association President Roger Dow, after recapping the association's recent progress in governmental affairs, wrote that "the board authorized continuing conversations to explore fully merging Travel Business Roundtable with TIA, and to absorb the excellent staff currently managing the Discover America Partnership."

Early in his tenure, Dow argued that the industry couldn't lobby effectively using a fragmented approach, and he introduced his catchphrase, "one industry, one voice." He quickly formed a political alliance with TBR, a much smaller organization but one whose concentration of high-profile CEO members made it relatively effective at getting attention on Capitol Hill.

It's not only that its CEOs are high-profile. They are fluent in a language all politicians understand: Six of its board members alone gave a total of $73,500 to candidates and political action committees in the first quarter of 2007, according to

The TIA is considerably larger than TBR. It's only a slight exaggeration to say it has more member categories than TBR has members, and the total political spending of TIA members is considerably higher. But its very size works against the "one industry, one voice" philosophy.

The TIA is a collection of companies and associations that often have their own political agenda, political action committees and lobbying efforts in addition to supporting the industry at large. Regarding forming a TIA political action committee, Rick Webster, the TIA's vice president for governmental affairs, told me, "Individual checks are already going to Disney's PAC or Marriott's PAC. We don't want to cannibalize those efforts."

Does that limit the TIA's clout? "Let's not kid ourselves," he said. "Does money open doors? Yes. But it's not so crass that you need to [contribute] to see a representative or a senator."

Dow told me that discussions to merge the TIA and TBR were "very preliminary."

"We're exploring whether it makes sense. A lot of good things have happened since we started working together. But things still sometimes come out on the Discover America Partnership letterhead, others come from TIA and TBR combined. They call on Tuesday, we on Wednesday."

TBR's chairman, Loews Hotels CEO Jon Tisch, told me only that he was "not ready to comment" on merger talks. He referred me to Discover America Partnership's executive director, Geoff Freeman. While emphasizing that the three groups have worked together successfully, Freeman said, "It's too early to talk about a merger."

By chance, I happened to sit down last week next to Hank Phillips, former president of the National Tour Association, at a Tourism Cares dinner. Tourism Cares, which raises money for scholarships and supports initiatives to conserve tourism-related sites, resulted from a merger of two similar but separate initiatives within the NTA and the U.S. Tour Operators Association.

While the goals of Tourism Cares and the Discover America Partnership are clearly different, there are some parallels between the evolutions of TIA/TBR/Discover America Partnership and NTA/USTOA/Tourism Cares. In each case, a large association worked with a smaller but arguably more prestigious group to create a third organization to work in an area of mutual interest.

Phillips said he learned some lessons along the way about mergers. He credits Dow with bringing the TIA "to a point where [a merger] can even be talked about. But mergers require something to be given up. In the case of Tourism Cares, people were willing to give up in order to give; they saw they didn't have to own it to get credit. But so much in hard-nosed business is about who gets credit for what happens."

Dow, Tisch and Freeman have all shown themselves to be, individually and together, effective for the industry. But putting aside for a moment the question of who gets credit, the TIA and TBR seem to be culturally distinct. And if at this point one of them still goes calling on Tuesday and another on Wednesday, I suspect it's for reasons that go beyond an inability to coordinate those calls. The industry, I think, is not yet ready to speak with one voice.


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