American Tourism Society aims to raise its profile in the U.S.

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- The American Tourism Society (ATS), a marketing organization focusing on travel to former Iron Curtain countries and the Middle East, has stepped up its activities overseas and plans to raise its visibility in the U.S.

Plans call for a revamped Web site that will launch in January, a more robust meeting schedule and a new seminar program.

Don Reynolds, the groups executive vice president, told delegates to the groups fall meeting here that the Web site will address agent and consumer needs for destination information and drive those agents and consumers to ATS tour operator members.

Reynolds said the ATS turned its attention to the Middle East two years ago as part of its broader mission of helping break down travel barriers in areas with special needs.

The ATS was born in 1987 as the American-Soviet Tourism Society, which Reynolds described as a protest organization. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the society regrouped as the ATS and turned its attention to marketing. It is small (44 members), but its meetings are not member gatherings, per se. Its most recent session drew 160 participants for a forum that delved into current issues and challenges for the central European region. There also was a trade show featuring area travel sellers.

Jan Rudomina, director of the Polish National Tourist Office, said the new Web site (www.americantourismsociety.org) will highlight tour companies and provide thumbnail descriptions, with links, of sample tours offered by member companies.

Dave Spinelli, operator of Global Web Solutions in Metuchen, N.J., is responsible for the technology. Spinelli, also director of national sales and e-commerce marketing for Vacation.com, emphasized that the site will have lots of links, which will be good for your position with search engines.

The site will be rolling out each countrys section by region: first central Europe, followed by the Baltics, the Middle East and Russia and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

While ATS spokesmen updated delegates on the workings of the group, Akel Biltaji, a former Jordanian minister of tourism, delivered the two-day sessions most gripping report. He had been driving to the Grand Hyatt hotel in Amman when terrorists launched an attack there and at two other hotels.

Biltaji said he had been invited to spend the evening at the hotel with friends, but had a previous commitment. On learning of the attack, he raced there to assess damage and check on the fate of his friends. They were carrying the bodies out, and I saw the faces of my friends, he said.

Terror spares no one, he said. It was a shock to our people, but it was a lesson as well. There were those who thought it heroic to kill oneself for a cause. This sympathy was erased.

We want this message to go to all the world: Well not let them win.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin at [email protected].

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