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US Travel Leadership in Question

Washington, DC -- Jun 14th, 2006 -- The latest pronouncement by the self-designated leaders of the US travel industry that "The image of the US overseas is "in crisis" against the background of the Iraq conflict and war against terrorism" makes my blood boil for outright arrogance and incompetence. Why? Because when the same people in TIA (Travel Industry of America) and WTTC (World Travel and Tourism Council) had the opportunity to build bridges and improve the same image in April, when they had the Global Tourism Summit in Washington, DC. They blew the opportunity and made it worse.

Had the media planners at TIA and WTTC more than a couple of brain cells to share between themselves they may have noticed that the world is a little upset with the Bush Administration. "Shock and Awe" and lazy leisure time in the Sun do not mix. They may also have noticed that tourism in a big chunk of the world was devastated by natural events, the Tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. New Orleans, an International tourism center was battered and is struggling to survive. The world of tourism is looking to the Gulf Coast, wondering why those poor people were abandoned, and how the US will rebuild the lucrative Gulf Coast tourist industry. The last person they wanted to listen to is the man resposible for FEMA and the chokehold on inbound tourism.

But forget these poor sods, they can't afford a thousand dollar plate at political fundraiser's, let's pander to big business and the politicians in DC, who gladly accept their political contributions. Now I have no problem with throwing a lavish party, but to turn it into a political whitewash, then moan about the consequences is downright incompetence.

Back to the statements from Roger Dow, the trusted "Marriott Man" heading the TIA. "Noting that the US share of the expanding global travel market has declined by more than 36% in 15 years, he called on policymakers to "embrace travel and tourism" and recognize its potential to boost the country's image worldwide."

Ya knows what Roger I didn't see you calling on policymakers from Congress to speak at your Summit. Only the politicians who have choked the industry by actions against the traveling public. True they are the darlings of Marriott,and I know old man Marriott chokes at the sound of a Democrat, but you should have put partisan politics behind you when you moved offices. You have to embrace the whole industry, and not just the big fund raisers and contributors. Come to think of it Senator Hilary Clinton does a hell of a lot more for Tourism than Secretary Chertoff, and I didn't see here speaking for New York.

Back to the statements. "Noting that the US share of the expanding global travel market has declined by more than 36% in 15 years, he called on policymakers to "embrace travel and tourism" and recognize its potential to boost the country's image worldwide............. Dow was responding to a Pew Global Attitudes Study – a series of worldwide public opinion surveys involving 17,000 people from 15 countries – which found that favourable opinions about America had fallen in most of the nations polled. In the UK, this has dropped from 83% in 1999-2000 to just 56% this year."

OK. Houston we have a problem! Wouldn't you think the PR geniuses at TIA would have jumped into high gear and turned the lavish junket in Washington into a TV Spectacular to celebrate the potential of tourism to the United States, and share their enthusiasm with the buying public instead of a gaggle of Right Wing Marriott big business fundraiser's? Where was the television and radio coverage, where were the stars? Where was the Glitz from New York, Vegas and Orlando? OK the young "Happy Feet" travel writers from the Blogs and travel magazines reprinted the news releases as they recovered from the free Bubbly, and photos went onto websites. But did TIA reach any real audience that can effect change. Hell no!

We have a major media problem, a by product of failed media manipulation by the ultra right wing Bush team. It will take decades and tens of thousands of dead soldiers before that problem can be corrected. Like TIA and WTTC they didn't have an effective media strategy in the first place. America needs a high profile global media strategy that can neutralize the negatives and accentuate the positives. (A song there?) Just inviting the usual Happy Feet to TIA events and posting bland News Releases on a web site does not cut it any more.

Yes, we need a new Tourism Initiative, backed by taxpayers funding, but not run by the lobbying groups at ASTA, TIA and the other Beltway Bandits that are so out of touch with the buying and traveling public. You can't fight the perceptions of a billion television viewers around the world with bland news releases posted on then send a message to the Brit's, and Europeans that they don't really matter and so the sales office in London will be closed. The lofty Weasel Word flowing statements may impress the lobbyists inside the Beltway, but actions such as this mean more to overseas traveling publics than news releases about commitments to public/private partnerships.

Come on Board Members of these trade groups, start asking real questions and looking at the media plan more carefully. You have a short window of opportunity before the Chinese Dragon throws the whole global tourism matrix into disarray.




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