I've always said that if you've got a complicated story to
tell, you should create a three-part outline that states your case. It keeps
your story simple and comprehensive—and nobody really wants to hear more than
that, anyway. So I was impressed last week when I received the executive
summary for "A Blueprint to Discover America," which was created by
the Discover America Partnership (DAP), and saw that it was divided into three
parts that were immediately easy to grasp. I'm pleased, because the simplicity
of this document will help get its very important message through: That the U.S. needs to
fix a very broken travel system. Since 9/11, overseas travel to the U.S. is down 17
percent. From 2004 to 2005 alone it dropped by 10 percent. The numbers say it
best: We're losing business fast, and it doesn't look like things are going to
get any better.
The good news is that with this three-part blueprint, things
may get better. But first, let's examine just how bad things have gotten and
how poorly some elements of a trip to the U.S. are perceived by the
Last week at the State of the Travel Industry Luncheon, Jay
Rasulo, 2007 national chair of TIA and chairman of WaltDisneyParks
and Resorts, likened the United States
to an imaginary theme park called "Park America," at which attendance
was at an all-time low. Why? The park first and foremost gives the impression
it doesn't really like to admit people. Secondly, its whole gate experience is
unwelcoming, and there aren't enough gate attendants to let them in. Third, the
park doesn't advertise.
"For this park, the brand message is, 'If you come,
fine; if you don't, even better,'" said Rasulo, who was instrumental in
helping to found the DAP. (For Rasulo's entire speech, go to www.tia.org.)
Rasulo's "Park America" analogy was a nod toward
the three main reasons that visits to the U.S. are dropping, according to the
DAP report: One, our visa application system currently has a long wait, and that's
just to get the required interview (which is not always conducted in areas that
are accessible for some travelers). Two, once they get here, international
travelers must endure long bottlenecked lines at their ports of entry. Three,
the overall perception of international travelers to the U.S. requires a
coordinated communications program. In its blueprint, DAP (which is a coalition
of some of America's
foremost business and travel industry leaders) provides succinct tactics to
resolve these challenges. (To download the blueprint, go to www.poweroftravel.org).
While the U.S.
clearly needs to address its inbound tourism, it doesn't seem to having any
problems at all with outbound travel. Earlier last week I attended the ATME's
Marketing Issues Forum/Travel Industry Forecast, where Jack Mannix, CEO of
Ensemble Travel, reported that he was "unbelievably bullish" on his
consortium's travel business for 2007. "We have 1,000 locations in the U.S. and Canada who are reporting that in
2006 they had their best year ever. The business is there and people are
traveling." Bob Whitley, president of USTOA, echoed Mannix's enthusiasm,
noting that since the start of the new year, business is up dramatically for his
membership. "People are booking London and Paris like crazy,"
he reported. Whitley added that business to South America is also very strong,
and that while Asia overall was "a little weak," travel to China is
strong. "The American consumer has decided to travel," he concluded.
By the way, as you're reading this, I'll be in New Orleans for
Orient-Express' Bellini Club's annual meeting. That's a group of top-producing
agents that met for the first time last year. I'm looking forward to seeing
those dear agent friends I've met already, and toward establishing some new
relationships. I'm also anxious to see New
Orleans, my favorite city in the world, which I've not
visited since before Katrina. I have no doubt that the basic infrastructure of
the French Quarter and other tourist areas will be on fine display; however,
I'm also sure that the issues of the outlying devastated areas, which appear to
have been all but abandoned by officials, are still not being addressed. If
only we could harness the energy of those individuals who created "A
Blueprint to Discover America"
to assist in the New Orleans
effort. Restoring the health of the Big Easy is also a national issue, as New Orleans is one of our
greatest tourism assets.