The demise of Osama bin Laden marks a turning point in the war on terrorism, and for those taking the long view, it brings us a few steps closer to the day when we can begin to peel back some of the many layers of security that have burdened transportation and travel for the past decade.

This is a welcome prospect to ponder, particularly as the U.S. travel industry this week marks its annual National Travel and Tourism Week and prepares for two industry events of global importance in the U.S. later this month.

The first is the annual summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council, slated for May 17 to 19 in Las Vegas. It will be followed by the U.S. Travel Association's annual International Pow Wow in San Francisco, May 21 to 25.

The theme for National Travel and Tourism Week is "Why Travel Matters." That theme goes hand in hand with the theme of the WTTC summit, "Powering Global Growth."

It also speaks to the very reason for the Pow Wow, a travel trade fair where U.S. destinations and suppliers build their inbound business with overseas operators and other travel companies.

That inbound business generates a trade surplus of $32 billion.

That's why travel matters. It is an economic engine that powers global growth. Those are not merely good slogans for conferences and meetings. They are facts.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, however, the engine of American tourism has been underperforming as growth in visitor arrivals stagnated, in part because of ripple effects of the war on terrorism.

At long last our government has done something about it. Appearing at the WTTC summit and at the Pow Wow this year will be the leaders of the new Corporation for Travel Promotion, the government-created entity that will soon have the resources to mount multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns to stimulate Visit USA traffic.

The short-term impact of bin Laden's death may be an increased risk of terrorist activity and a heightened level of security, but the long-term trend is clearly going to go the other way, which means these marketing initiatives could not be getting under way at a better time.

Travel was attacked on 9/11. Travelers became the first victims, and travel companies became the tools of the terrorists. But while we may never be rid of all of the impediments that have burdened our industry since that day, we welcome the turning of this tide.
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