Almost 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
additional details on this article in the April 18 issue of Travel