With the dollar weak, Pow Wow exhibitors lure foreign visitors

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With the weak dollar making the U.S. a bargain destination for foreign tourists, exhibitors at the 40th Annual International Pow Wow in Las Vegas said they’re investing more to lure overseas visitors stateside.

Nearly 50 million tourists traveled to the U.S. last year. That’s 2 million more than in 2006, but still below 2000’s tally of 53 million visitors. And despite favorable fundamentals and last year’s lift, inbound U.S. tourism growth continues to lag behind that of international travel growth overall. 

More robust growth in U.S. arrivals, officials at Pow Wow said, remains constrained by entry obstacles and prospective visitors’ concerns about how they might be treated.

Roger Dow, president and CEO of Pow Wow’s organizer, the Travel Industry Association, said that combating international perceptions has been challenging.

“In China, India and Mexico, there are significant issues with regard to obtaining a visa,” Dow said. “We’ve made strides in Brazil, but it still can take 60 to 70 days or even longer to get an interview to get a visa.”

Dow said that fewer overseas travelers, comparing 2007 to 2000, has cost the U.S. nearly $140 billion in lost visitor spending, $22 billion in lost tax receipts and 230,000 lost jobs.

Apart from easing travel restrictions, Dow said the U.S. “has got to spend money to tell people to come America.

“Australia spends $150 million on promoting tourism,” he said. “Greece spends $120 million. We don’t spend a thing.”

Pow Wow, which describes itself as “the largest generator of visit-USA travel,” is a key event for American tourism officials and suppliers looking to increase business for U.S. destinations. About 1,500 international and domestic buyers attended this week’s event, in order to hold business sessions with some 1,000 U.S. destinations and suppliers.

Business at some destinations is brisk. Paola Mastrantoni, general manager of Orlando-based Welcome USA Tours, said the dollar’s weakness against the euro, yen and other foreign currencies has heightened interest from Europe, the U.K. and Canada, its three primary markets. “We’re always busy, but now even more so,” he said.

Disney, with offices in 14 countries, remains at the forefront of those seeking to attract more visitors to the U.S. as well as to its overseas attractions. “Last year we had our highest attendance ever,” said Craig Parsons, vice president of international sales and marketing for Disney Destinations.

Dow said that the more positive stories U.S. companies and tourism officials can tell, the better it will be toward restoring America’s former leadership as an international destination.

“Twenty years ago, America was the No. 1 foreign destination in the world,” Dow said. “Last year, we were the No. 4 destination in the world. So we have a tremendous growth opportunity. Not only that, the travel industry ... can do more in terms of America’s global image in the world than any other industry. It’s very important that we get people to come here. We need people to come here so we can tell the real story of America.”

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