- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2000

Times are good for the U.S. travel industry.

A healthy economy and high consumer confidence are just two factors driving the country's $515 billion travel and tourism market particularly this summer when 237 million people are expected to take a trip between June and August.

But things aren't as rosy when it comes to the number of international visitors arriving in the United States.

In fact the country's share of the world travel market has declined over the years. Countries like France and Spain which have government-funded marketing budgets have surpassed the United States in number of international travelers.

In an effort to reverse the country's declining share of overseas visitors, the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) is leading an industrywide effort to market the country as a whole to regain international momentum.

Despite the lack of federal funding, TIA along with businesses and groups in the travel and tourism industry, are pulling their resources together to get the word out about the United States.

Beginning earlier this year, TIA has increased its presence overseas, begun vigorously educating international tour operators about the country and enhanced its presence on the Internet.

"This new international marketing that we're doing has the support of every segment of the industry," said William S. Norman, TIA's president and chief executive officer. "We think the impact would be significant because increase visitation means more jobs and it will continue to fire and fuel our overall economy."

Q: What exactly is TIA doing to market the country internationally?

A: What we are attempting to do is to get back to that basic thread of having the U.S. branded as the destination of choice. There is a growing pie a very, very lucrative pie and we want to make sure in our country we are getting our fair share. Unfortunately, even though this is a wonderful country and we believe with some degree of bias that we have more to offer than any other place in the world, we're now competing with other nations that are spending up to $100 million promoting their country vs. nothing coming from our federal government.

We have decided to set up overseas offices in the United Kingdom, Japan and Brazil. They are emphasizing not only those countries but the region as well. We now have people on site to interact with travel and tour operators.

We're also very visibly and proactively involved in other countries' trade shows selling America. It is something we're doing in terms of our heightened role in this international market. We're having seminars for tour operators who have the responsibility of promoting travel to the United States. We are having the seminars to further educate them about how to sell the U.S.

Q: What is the biggest challenge in the international market?

A: The biggest challenge is that there is tremendous competition. You turn on the TV and you are inundated with campaigns like "Come to Canada," "Come to Australia," "Come to Europe." For the international visitor who has all kinds of options they are hearing "Come visit us" from all sectors and they're not hearing it from the United States. If they do hear it from the United States they hear it from individual segments. The voice is not there.

We have to deal with a very highly competitive international marketplace.

Q: How much of the international pie has the United States been losing?

A: We have found that our share … not very, very long ago was 26 percent is now down in the lower teens [14-16 percent] of a growing pie.

Secondly, France and Spain have now crept in front of us in terms of the number of visitors. These are countries that are pushing very, very hard.

It is very significant that we understand that with this robust economy we have a chance to keep adding on to it but unfortunately this is not occurring with [help from] the government.

The good news is that our industry is saying we're going to launch this initiative and move it along and pay for it ourselves.

Q: How is the Internet playing a part in this new initiative?

A: We have hundreds and thousands of individual companies that are promoting themselves but we need some focus. So we are now putting together a portal where all the various companies in travel and tourism are brought together under what we call a "nation site." We are establishing a new site, www.seeamerica.org, for anyone throughout the world, whether it is a business or consumers. They can turn to this site and have a link to other sites in the country.

Seeamerica.org is open now but we are expanding it greatly not only to 54 states and territories and the convention and visitor bureaus, but also as a basis for linking to businesses and suppliers in our industry.

This really is going to be our nation's site. Our role is to serve through this portal as one-stop shopping for all the things you want to do to make it easier for the international visitor to find the United States.

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