In late 2003, the U.S. government
had every intention of giving a council of travel industry leaders
$50 million to work on promoting inbound tourism. But as the time
to cut the check neared, the treasury was authorized to spend only
That was pretty
hard to swallow. After all, billions in pork were being approved
for questionable pet senatorial projects from Alaska to, um,
Alaska, while the travel industry recovery was but a gleam in our
collective eye at that time.
Of course, this was
before we knew the current administration was going to gift us with
an ever-weakening dollar, the best promotional tool a government
can give to its inbound operators.
Thats not always so
good for the outbound side, but pent-up demand after 9/11 has
managed to keep the outbound trade humming, if not roaring, despite
our Milquetoast currency.
Last year, Congress
upped the ante to $10 million for a 2005 international marketing
campaign. Since momentum in the industry seems to be going in the
right direction anyway, rather than spend it all on another
television campaign in the U.K., I have a modest proposal for, say,
$5 million of it: Buy some carts and put them around the baggage
carousels and the arrivals areas of international
Let passengers use
them for free.
On one hand, this
will allow certain visitors -- lets call them high-end foreign
visitors -- to more easily bring their cheap-dollar loot from the
limo to the check-in counter when they depart.
On the other end of
the scale, it will let another class of guests more easily haul
their carpetbags, knapsacks, boxes and trunks from the baggage
carousel to and through U.S. customs.
I should disclose
that I have a personal stake in this. I figure that, at this point,
Im out about $15 renting trolleys for visitors to the U.S. who have
arrived without dollar bills or a credit card to pay for a
These visitors are
usually inexperienced travelers, budget travelers or coming from
The last of these
have just been through interviews with immigration officers and,
frankly, look on the verge of tears even before seeing that baggage
trolleys can be freed only by small U.S. bank notes they dont have
yet or plastic they arent qualified to carry.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge addressed the
TIA Unity Dinner last week, he said immigration officers were given
more discretion to let irregularities slide when dealing with --
are you sitting down? -- the high-end foreign visitors.
In other words, the
ones with the plastic and ready cash have a velvet welcome
He cited it as an
example of balancing the economy and security.
I have no problem
with that, but, economically speaking, its shortsighted to look
after only the rich.
Many visitors first
arrive in the U.S. as budget travelers. They ultimately return as
high-end visitors because they were made to feel welcome on their
Im happy to let the
smart marketers of carts keep their concessions in domestic
After all, they
have to recoup the small fortune they must have spent inventing a
trolley that is in almost every way inferior to the free ones
available in other countries. (When carts are free, theres no
incentive to design them so a traveler will more likely need two
rather than one.)
guests are a different story. As a host country, the U.S. has all
but pulled the welcome mat out from under many visitors
The least we can do
is reward them with some free wheels once theyve touched