Every year at about this time, the Travel
Industry Association meets in Washington for a State of the Travel
happens is this: The paid president and CEO introduces the industry
executive who will serve as the chairman for the coming year, and
the chairman gives a speech.
It happened again
last week as Disneys Jay Rasulo came to the podium and reminded
hundreds of important travel people that this is not as good at it
gets. Relaying statistics from the World Tourism Organization, he
noted that three-quarters of a billion people travel outside their
own countries every year, or about 12% of the worlds population. In
15 years, that number could double to 1.5 billion, or nearly 25% of
the worlds population.
But the U.S. market
share of this international travel pie is shrinking. Its at an
all-time low. The U.S. is losing billions of dollars every year in
tourism revenue because people are going elsewhere.
And the more they go
elsewhere, the less they come here.
Rasulo said the
U.S. needs three things.
First is a
well-funded, nationally coordinated destination-marketing campaign
to promote the U.S. overseas.
passport, visa and security procedures that strike a better balance
between security and hospitality and give travelers a path of least
Third is a seat at
the governments table, one from which we can actually be
And he made it
clear that theres something more than jobs and prosperity at stake
here, although thats reason enough to raise the alarm. As Rasulo
put it, When foreigners experience our culture and hospitality,
they invariably come away with a much more positive image of our
In other words,
Seeing America is believing America.
Hes right, you
you were to fire up your favorite Internet search engine and enter
the name George Allen Smith IV, you would get about 2.5 million
hits, as of last week, somewhat more than you would get for William
Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States. Such is the
power of the Internet and our mass media.
By this yardstick
of our popular culture, poor, boring President Taft has been
eclipsed by a young man who was unknown to history until he
disappeared during his honeymoon six months ago.
incident happened on a cruise, the ship, the cruise line and the
cruise industry have come under the flails of the bloggers and the
commentators and the all-night news shows that feed on facts and,
when the facts are all gone, feed on scraps and fiction.
felt it necessary to break its stoic silence and began issuing
statements to clarify the muddy record, which may have made matters
We have seen this
kind of cause celebre before. It often happens that it doesnt end
until it makes everybody look bad. We may be reaching that
We revere freedom
of expression. Its the business were in. But the line between the
practitioners of responsible journalism and the seekers of hits and
wows is drawn by the value we place on restraint.
can disagree on where to draw that line, but can there be any
serious argument that it ought to be somewhere south of 2.5