There are a number of reasons why it is both appropriate and significant for the World Travel and Tourism Council to hold its annual summit in the U.S.

It is, first of all, home to the worlds largest travel and tourism economy. Also, the U.S. drives much of what happens in other tourism economies around the world, by virtue of its popular culture and the desire of its citizens to see the world. And the U.S. is a rich and popular destination in its own right.

A more sobering reason, however, is that all these things could be less true tomorrow if the U.S. government persists in the belief that this sector of the economy can pretty much take care of itself.

To a large extent, of course, travel and tourism can take care of itself. Market forces and private enterprise have combined to give the U.S. a dynamic and competitive travel industry.

But an important part of its growth potential, the inbound market, has been undermined by the federal government for many years. Elsewhere in this issue, you can read about the decline in the U.S. market share of international visitor spending and international visitation. This problem goes far beyond the governments oft-noted refusal to finance an international tourism marketing campaign.

It goes to security practices, visa and passport regulations, an atmosphere of suspicion and a foreign policy that too often prefers unilateral action to collaboration and multilateralism.

Despite the public gestures and polite promises of the departments of State and Homeland Security, the U.S. is not seen as a welcoming nation. Visitors have to be more than tolerated. They have to be encouraged, enticed, welcomed, treated with respect, surprised, thanked and invited to return -- at every opportunity. 

Many U.S. travel companies have developed a culture of hospitality in which these practices are deeply ingrained and virtually automatic. Some international destinations have done the same thing.

The U.S. has not.

The WTTCs presence in Washington this week is, among other things, a reminder that this must change. 

... in a welcoming nation

To the hundreds of international delegates from dozens of nations who are attending the World Travel and Tourism Global Summit in Washington this week, welcome to America. We hope your experiences traveling here reflected our governments promise to process your entry efficiently and to treat you with respect.

If you arrived on U.S. soil with concerns about whether the environment here is tourist-friendly, we hope your experience dispels any doubt you might have about the U.S. as a welcoming nation. We hope your exposure to our culture is enlightening and, in the end, profitable in every meaning of that word.

To the representatives of the U.S. government who are attending the summit, welcome to the travel industry. We believe that you, too, will receive a warm welcome and be exposed to ideas that will enrich your understanding of tourisms role in our economy and how tourism promotion is, in fact, an extension of diplomacy.

Our wish is that this summit will be remembered as the beginning of a long and fruitful dialogue.

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