- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Federal security experts, civilian contractors and tourism industry leaders gathered Wednesday in New York City to discuss increased cooperation in a time heavily marred by gun violence, terrorism and xenophobia.

Organizers said it was the first summit of its kind between the security and tourism industries, acknowledging that in today’s reality, the two are more intertwined than ever.

“Unfortunately security has occupied an increasing share of our conversations as an industry,” said Jonathan Grella, executive vice president for the U.S. Travel Association, which is hosting the summit.

The U.S. tourism industry “generated $1.6 trillion in economic output in 2015,” and supported 7.6 million jobs, according to SelectUSA, a government body housed within the Department of Commerce.

Security speakers include personnel and advisers from the federal, civilian and private sector. Tourism representatives include managers of hotels, airlines, convention centers, among others.

“We’re excited to discuss everything from preparing for a big event, from a security standpoint to dealing with the fallout of an actual crisis should one happen and everything in between,” Mr. Grella said.

The U.S. has largely been spared from terrorist attacks targeting tourist centers compared to European allies such as France, Belgium and Britain.

While gun violence is pervasive in the country, acts inspired by terrorism have not been organized on a large conspiratorial scale since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“Everyone, including Americans, were really worried and didn’t feel safe and then folks abroad didn’t feel welcome,” Mr. Grella said of the hit the tourism industry took. “That decade following 9/11 is referred to as the ‘lost decade’, and only more recently have we dug ourselves out of it and recovered our market share and made ourselves whole again.”

In February, France24 reported that French tourism was beginning to recover at the end of 2016, following two years of multiple, deadly terrorist attacks throughout the country.

Just before 2016, Turkey was growing into one of the world’s leading tourist destinations, according to data from the International Monetary Fund. But an uptick in terrorist attacks last year and political unrest took off a full percentage point of the country’s GDP, according to IMF analysis.

The problem for the American tourism sector, which makes the majority of its profits from international travelers, is to reassure the world that the U.S. is not only safe, but a welcoming place for foreigners, Mr. Grella said.

“We need to make sure we’re deliberate with a welcome message and continue to hammer that message around the world. If you’re a legitimate traveler and seek to come here in peace, enjoy America, we’d love to have you. We’re open for business but closed for terror.”

The National Travel and Tourism Office forecast that international visits to the U.S. dropped slightly in 2016. “If the NTTO forecast is realized, this would be the first decline in total arrivals to the United States since 2009,” the office wrote in its assessment.

Among the summit speakers are former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson under President Obama and Frances Townsend, a top security adviser to President George W. Bush.

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