Arnie WeissmannAlmost every country in the world has a tourism minister or secretary of tourism. In some countries, the tourism minister is not a very senior post and may not have full cabinet status. In other countries -- in the Caribbean, for instance -- its not uncommon for the tourism minister to be the prime minister.

There is one large nation that does not have a tourism minister, or even a tourist board, for that matter. Im sure youre way ahead of me in knowing that that country is the U. S.

But we do have Doug Baker. Doug is the son James Baker, the former Treasury Secretary under Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State under George Bush pere, among other senior positions.

Doug is deputy assistant secretary for service industries, tourism and finance in the U.S. Department of Commerce. He is the closest we have to a government official whose job it is to pay attention to tourism.

Doug appears to be a very nice guy. He has been on panels that I have moderated, and Ive seen him speak on behalf of the U.S. government at various travel and tourism functions. It turns out we have a few friends in common, and he was in one or two classes with my wife in college. Everyone agrees he seems to be a nice guy.

I had always thought that, though he seems nice enough, he was not very effective in advancing the cause of tourism in the U.S. I thought it especially damning that he was on the job in 2004 when Congress cut an appropriation for $50 million to promote tourism to $6 million.

But, as it turns out, Doug may indeed be very effective at his job. The problem is that promoting tourism is not Dougs job.

I heard him speak last week on a panel at the World Travel and Tourism Summit in New Delhi. He sat among five tourism ministers (India, Egypt, Greece, Qatar and Turkey) who each articulated what they were doing to promote tourism in their countries. When it was Dougs turn, he said that U.S. tourism policy was to have a strong economy because a healthy economic environment is good for tourism.

While I couldnt argue with that, I also found it hard to believe that American economic policymakers take specific notice of tourism as they tighten and loosen various economic controls. But then again, perhaps they do.

Afterwards, I asked Doug if the weak dollar -- very good for inbound tourism but bad for those sending people abroad -- was an intended or unintended consequence of economic policy.

My daddy told me a long time ago never to discuss the economy, he said with a smile.

But, I said, You just said economic policy is tourism policy. And youre involved in tourism policy, right?

To make a long conversation short, the answer turns out to be no. He is not, as I supposed, the de facto architect of U.S. tourism policy. No one is.

He is, essentially, a statistician who counts the number of tourists coming in and tallies the dollars that they spend. Thats his job. As for outbound tourists, thats another office in the Commerce Department altogether (counterintuitively, in an office that keeps stats on imports).

So, I owe Doug an apology for thinking that he was an ineffective advocate for U.S. tourism, and I write this in case youre suffering under a similar misconception. As he made clear to me, its not his job to be an advocate for tourism.

Its nobodys job, at least nobody in the public sector.

Statisticians at the Commerce Department do tell us that in 2003 (the most recent year for which numbers are available), inbound travel and tourism resulted in $80.2 billion in expenditures.

But even with the projected increases for 2004 and 2005 taken into account, were still significantly below pre-9/11 numbers.

Ultimately, Im not sure which is more distressing: Thinking someone was trying but failing, or that nobodys even trying.

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Look for additional details on this article in the April 18 issue of Travel Weekly.

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