- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Global Travel and Tourism Summit held in the District last week gave a boost to the industry’s push for a national tourism campaign.

The industry, led by the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), has been calling since last year for a marketing campaign to draw international visitors to the United States.

“We cannot be taken for granted anymore,” said Jonathan Tisch, chief executive officer of Loews Hotels and chairman of the Travel Business Roundtable, a group within the TIA.

“The message is that travel and tourism will continue to grow when properly supported by the public and private sectors.”

TIA members contend the government is not doing enough to promote U.S. tourism.

They are looking for a Cabinet-level tourism position, similar to a minister of tourism in European countries, as well as $200 million to $300 million in public and private funds for a marketing campaign.

Australia, by comparison, spends $120 million in public funds per year advertising itself as a destination.

It has become the most desired travel destination among Europeans, TIA research shows.

Tourism officials said last week that conference speeches by four U.S. Cabinet officials — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta — are signs that their work is paying off.

“It was significant that [the summit] was here in D.C. because we are among the elected officials who can help us and who can support us if they want to,” Mr. Tisch said.

Foreign travelers to the United States have a markedly higher opinion of the United States and Americans than those who haven’t visited, TIA research shows.

“Traveling to another country … breaks down stereotypes and makes people quicker to listen and slower to judge,” Miss Rice said at the summit Wednesday. “Travel fosters understanding and builds respect and creates a subtlety of opinion.”

Roger Dow, chairman of the Travel Industry Association of America, dismissed the idea that a larger government role in the industry would add unnecessary layers of red tape.

“Any government involvement will be a help,” he said. “The industry can respond to most market changes quickly.”

In other news …

• Tijuana Flats opened its second Northern Virginia location last week at Lee Plaza on Lee Highway in Fairfax. The Tex-Mex restaurant features a hot-sauce bar with 13 varieties.

• The lobby of the St. Gregory Luxury Hotel & Suites in Georgetown is temporarily losing its life-size sculpture of Marilyn Monroe, but the hotel is replacing it with a life-size sculpture inspired by the famous photo of a sailor and nurse kissing in Times Square on V-J Day.

The sculpture, “Unconditional Surrender,” will be on display for three months while the Marilyn Monroe piece is restored.

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Contact Jen Haberkorn at jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-4836.

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