This year's theme for National Tourism Week, which starts on May 12, is "Travel & Tourism: America's Front Door."

OK, it's not Shakespeare, but the image of a front door is a welcoming image. And if you think about it, the image conveys a simple but important message, particularly in light of this country's declining appeal to international travelers.

Travel is a portal. It opens doors. It opens doors to human interaction and understanding, and it opens doors to economic development.

This has been an underlying theme of National Tourism Week for 24 years, and while the travel industry has struggled at times to get the message across, there are signs that the message is finally sinking in. This is nowhere more evident than in California, where the conservative and pragmatic Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has gotten out in front of a plan to dramatically increase the state's spending on tourism promotion.

California, which saw that it was losing market share to other destinations, realized that when it promotes tourism, it gets back every dollar it spends, and then some, in jobs, tax revenue and other benefits. National Tourism Week is designed, in part, to help bring Uncle Sam to the same realization.

For a suggestion as to why this matters, take a glance at our By the Numbers feature, "Survey: U.S. low on wish list for Chinese travelers." A research firm asked travelers in China what country would they visit if money was no object. Where would they go on the proverbial "dream trip?" The top five answers were France, Switzerland, Greece, Italy and Australia. Fewer than half named the U.S.

The U.S. came in eighth.

Don't we want America to be the first answer?

Getting green 

If you believe, as we do, that global warming is real and that human activity has something to do with it, then we can all can take some comfort that key leaders in the travel industry share those views and are committing their companies to adapt their business practices to a new sensibility.

As we report in our Cover Story this week ["Seeding responsible tourism: WTTC is keen on green in 2007"], these issues will be much on the minds of delegates to the Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Portugal this week. Because these issues are getting attention at a high level, we expect our news pages in the years ahead to chronicle a host of new developments about the greening of travel.

It is widely expected that tomorrow's consumers will increasingly direct their spending toward companies that engage in sustainable, nonpolluting practices and toward activities that are seen as environmentally benign.

For travel, there is a two-fold challenge here. Travel suppliers and destinations will find that they have to meet a new standard to stay competitive. But on another level, travel in general will have to stay competitive with a host of new claims on the consumer's budget.

For today's consumers, vacation travel competes with a variety of other discretionary expenditures, including home improvements, new cars and entertainment systems. Soon it will be solar panels.

Leisure and vacation travel has to get green, but it has to be more than that. It has to have therapeutic value not just for the planet but for the traveler and the traveler's psyche and soul.

There still has to be some magic in it. 

It would be a sad day for the planet and its people if we choose to visit a place only because it is carbon-neutral.

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