- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Congress slashed 80 percent of the Commerce Department’s $50 million tourism budget for fiscal 2004, leaving just $10 million for a campaign to promote the United States to international travelers.

“It’s disappointing,” said Noel Irwin Hentschel, chief executive officer of American Tours International and vice chairman of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Promotion Advisory Board. “Not only will it affect our ability to market the United States but it will also negatively affect our credibility with tour operators.”

The 15-member advisory board, which reports directly to Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, was formed in August to make a unified push to bring more international travelers to the United States.

Officials said a campaign of that magnitude would be a much-needed boost for the industry, which was hit hard after the September 11 attacks.

The board was planning to focus on five popular markets: Canada, Mexico, Britain, Japan and Germany. A search began in December for agencies to handle advertising, media and public relations. The contract was to be awarded Feb. 20.

But now the campaign’s future is not clear.

It’s even uncertain if $10 million will still be allocated to the campaign, as the Commerce Department contemplates slashing another $5 million this year, Ms. Hentschel said.

The Commerce Department will give the board at least $5 million, a Bush administration official said.

Ms. Hentschel said the board will have to take whatever funds they do receive and leverage it with the help of donated money from states and regions.

“We’ll take $10 million and stretch it to $30 million,” she said. “We can’t give up. We have to find another way around it.”

The advisory board is expected to meet Feb. 11.

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