As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concluded her remarks outlining Secure Borders and Open Doors in the Information Age last Tuesday, she turned to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and said, When he and I took office a year ago, we found a stereotype, a caricature, if you will.

The State Department was the welcoming department, but maybe a little soft, and the Homeland Security department was the tough enforcer, and maybe a little heartless.  One of the our earliest resolutions was to show people that this stereotype was wrong on both sides.

Im not sure how many people outside the Beltway actually subscribed to those stereotypes, but its not insignificant that Rice brought up the issue. It may well explain how macho posturing -- particularly at Homeland Security -- delayed consideration of soft issues that would have helped revive inbound travel and tourism at an earlier point in this administration.

Soft meant, in the large sense, concern about world opinion, diplomacy and inclusiveness.

In the narrower field of immigration and inbound tourism, softness was code for foolish concern about making visitors feel welcome.

The technological solutions described in the bulk of the Rice-Chertoff Joint Vision are neutral in the context of soft vs. heartless. Biometric identification has the double benefit of effectively preventing bad people from entering the country and efficiently screening good people to speed their ingress. A win-win.

Evidence of increasing acceptance of softness by the administration was first brought up by Rice. Speaking about President Bush, she said, He reaffirmed that it is a vital national interest for America to remain a welcoming nation.

Chertoff echoed, Even our national security interests require us to continue to promote a welcoming process.

Rice did not reveal when the president first affirmed this concept, but there are two pieces of the new initiative -- neither of them technology-related -- that indicate a movement toward the principles of softness. One of these pieces, designed to prevent visitors from feeling that the U.S. is heartless, gets it exactly right. The other is an inclusiveness initiative that ... well, we can hope.

The first is the establishment of One-Stop Redress for Travelers, a process intended to resolve errors that have led to travelers being incorrectly selected for additional screening. It is simply an admission that sometimes mistakes are made. Travelers need simpler ways to fix them. Right on.

The second is An Enhanced Partnership with the Private Sector, which, in full soft mode, solicits outside opinion and works toward inclusiveness. It will establish an advisory board to provide regular, institutional outreach with the travel, business and academic communities to take their views into account and identify best practices when developing travel policies and enlist their support to encourage visits to the U.S.

The irony of the last clause is almost comical, given the frustration the travel industry has endured in trying to enlist the support of the government to encourage visits to the U.S.

The description of the board continues: This advisory board will be asked to provide feedback on specific initiatives and serve as a reliable sounding board.

While it is nice that industry views will be taken into account and that feedback will be solicited, an advisory board is rather limited in power if there is no meaningful budget to promote travel and tourism connected to its activities.

On the surface, the soft, inclusive Rice-Chertoff Joint Vision hints that the welcome mat is being prepared for both foreign visitors and the travel industry.

It certainly seems that inbound foreign travelers soon will gain entry in a smooth and efficient manner.

I worry, however, that the industry will find itself lingering on a border, with one foot in the door and the other permanently fixed to the welcome mat.

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