Disney shoots welcome video to be shown at U.S. airports

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WASHINGTON -- It's only seven minutes long, but the travel industry and the U.S. government hope it will go a long way toward conveying a simple message: Welcome.

The message comes in the form of video produced by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts that focuses on the ordinary people and places that create the fabric of America. The video will welcome international visitors arriving at U.S. airports.

Filmed in cities and small towns around the country, the video, entitled "Welcome: Portraits of America," took center stage at an event here on Oct. 22, where copies were presented to representatives from the departments of State and Homeland Security. Both departments intend to play it at federal inspection areas at U.S. airports.

Washington Dulles and Bush Intercontinental in Houston will be among the first airports to feature the video.

Images from the video will be incorporated into welcoming posters and banners at airports.

U.S. embassies and consulates around the world will receive copies of the video, which could be played in waiting areas.

The video, which was produced at no cost to the government, is part of a cooperative effort between the travel industry and the government.

It is a product of "Secure Borders, Open Doors," a strategy jointly announced in January 2006 by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The strategy, also referred to as the Rice-Chertoff Initiative, is designed to bolster border security while encouraging inbound tourism to the U.S.

The industry contends that the U.S. share of the world's inbound travel has declined at least 35% since 1992. The decline particularly accelerated after 9/11. Since the attacks, the U.S. government's efforts to bolster border security have also conveyed an unintended message that inbound visitors are unwelcome, the travel industry has argued.

The Disney-produced video is part of an effort to rectify that.

Stewart Baker, assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security said, "It is very important for people to understand how welcoming the U.S. is and to appreciate the individuals that make up the country and how diverse and enthusiastic they can be."

Baker said the video was well done.

"The government does many things well, but displaying imagination is not something you'd expect the government to do well," Baker said. "But it is something that Disney has always done superbly."

"Welcome: Portraits of America" is the work of Disney videographer Federico Tio and his crew. They traveled by mobile home from Seattle to New York, visiting hundreds of cities and towns along the way.

During filming, Tio said he knew the film would be shown at airports but was surprised to hear that it would also be used at U.S. government offices overseas.

"I honestly didn't know the extent of the project," said Tio, who was born in Cuba in 1962 and later became a U.S. citizen. "But we tried to make it timeless so that it wouldn't look like it was shot in 2007."

The video include no images of Disney parks or characters or any other commercial entities. The stars are the faces of typical Americans.

"At the very least, I hope that when people arrive after their long flights to the U.S. that we can start off with the right impression of who Americans are and the fact that we are an open-minded, welcoming people," said Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, who spearheaded the project. "It is not easy to do that in a video, but I think this one comes pretty close to getting it right."

However, the video alone isn't enough to fully convey the welcome message to inbound visitors, said Rasulo, who also serves as chairman of the Travel Industry Association. Promoting the U.S. is crucial, too, he said.

The travel industry believes the Travel Industry Promotion Act will achieve that goal.

Two versions of the legislation, which would create a $100 million to $200 million inbound marketing campaign, are currently pending in the House (H.R. 3232) and the Senate (S. 1661). Congress could vote this year on the legislation, which has growing bipartisan support.        

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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