- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Attention, America-haters: Eat, drink, be merry — and maybe stay overnight and ride a roller coaster.

A little Yankee hospitality is the best remedy for the nation’s “image crisis,” says a consortium of travel mavens and theme-park owners who will take their case to Capitol Hill today for a press conference. Joining them will be Reps. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, and Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts Democrat.

The goal is to lure 10 million new international visitors to these shores and “empower the American people as our greatest ambassadors,” according to the Discover America Partnership, a District-based group that based it goals on some of the conclusions from the 2006 Pew Global Attitude Project.

The annual survey of world opinion revealed in June that “America’s global image has again slipped,” with U.S. approval falling in 15 countries — down to 23 percent in Spain and 37 percent in Germany, for example.

There may be something to the idea that apple pie and swell scenery could soothe anti-Americanism among the vacationing hordes, though.

“Our 2002 polls found that people from other countries who have traveled here firsthand had a better opinion of America after their experiences,” said Richard Wike, senior director for the Pew project.

Global Market Insite, a Seattle-based research group, also found last year that approval ratings of Americans were as high as 72 percent among foreigners who visited the U.S.

The touchy age of terrorism has taken a toll as the U.S. share of international travel has fallen by 36 percent since 1992, with an estimated loss of $286 billion, according to travel industry figures.

“A poor image has enormous economic and national-security ramifications,” said Jonathan Tisch, chairman of Loews Hotels.

Meanwhile, the number of international travelers worldwide is expected to double in the next 15 years, according to the United Nations. The new consortium maintains that America “lacks a national strategy” to compete for those visitors’ good will and wallets.

“Our industry can play a vital role in winning the hearts and minds of people around the world,” said Roger Dow, president of the Travel Industry Association. The association recently issued a report to the Commerce Department and government officials, proposing to restore “America’s travel brand.”

America has fallen to sixth place, the report states, as a dream destination on the global scale.

Also at today’s press conference outside the Russell Senate Office Building will be Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and about 100 travel executives, who will make recommendations, such as easing “unnecessary obstacles” for foreign visitors.

“The simple act of asking people to visit us — whether through marketing or friendlier borders — will demonstrate to the world we are an open, welcoming and friendly society,” according to the partnership.

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