Initiative to Boost International Travel to U.S. Launched

Washington -- A group of travel leaders yesterday launched an initiative to increase international visits to the United States as a way to improve America's poor image abroad.

Discover America Partnership plans to mount a lobbying campaign to convince policy-makers to embrace inbound travel as an important part of public diplomacy. The group urged the nation to set a goal of attracting 10 million more international travelers to the country annually.

Among those supporting Discover America Partnership are J.W. Marriott, chairman of Marriott International; Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; Jonathan Tisch, chairman of Loews Hotels; and Andrew Taylor, chairman of Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Stevan Porter, president of InterContinental Hotels Group, serves as chairman of Discover America Partnership.

"America's declining image has an enormous impact on the country's economic and national security," said Porter, arguing that more inbound visits to the country can help stanch the decline.

Research shows that the favorability rating of the United States rises by 42 percent among those who visit the country, according to Porter.

A study by the Pew Global Attitudes Project earlier this year showed that the United States suffers from a declining image abroad. In most nations, favorable opinion of the United States is well below 50 percent.

More than 49 million foreigners visited the United States last year, according to the U.S. Commerce Department, about 1.5 million fewer people than in 2000 despite an overall rise in travel globally.

"As a nation, we must do a better job of welcoming international visitors," said Porter. "With each new visitor we have an opportunity to share what is best about America--our people, our values, and our vitality."

Discover America Partnership advocates that the government become actively involved in marketing the United States as a travel destination and ease barriers to entry without jeopardizing national security.

Geoff Freeman, Discover America Partnership's executive director, characterized as "not ready for prime time" new regulations requiring nearly all travelers from the Western Hemisphere to present passports when entering the country. The regulations go into effect in January for travelers entering by air and sea and in 2008 for those entering by land.

Freeman said other government regulations unnecessarily impede travel to the United States.

"In many parts of the world, you have to wait months to get a visa to come into this country," he said. "That's unacceptable."

Other industry groups such as the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board and Travel Industry Association of America also promote similar positions, and some of the same travel leaders that are involved in those groups support Discover America Partnership. Disney's Rasulo, for instance, spearheaded the formation of Discover America Partnership and is also chairman of the Travel Industry Association of America.

More information about Discover America Partnership is available on the group's website, at www.poweroftravel.org.