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Chris Jones
 

Exec Says Las Vegas's Tourism Model Should Be Emulated Elsewhere

21 September 2005

As safety concerns and rising anti-Americanism reduce the number of foreign visitors to the United States, a travel expert said Monday more U.S. destinations should adopt a Las Vegas-style model that blends widespread security measures with a welcoming attitude.

Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based Travel Industry Association of America, told 225 attendees at this year's International Tourism Safety and Security Conference at the Flamingo that the nation's nearly $600 billion per year travel industry remains susceptible to threats including terror attacks and natural disasters.

To help stabilize the flow of inbound visitors and foster international goodwill, American businesses and law enforcement agencies must work together to project a safe and friendly image to would-be travelers, he said.

"When we don't have people coming here, then we fall victim to the media, to the mullahs and the people saying, 'They're the bad guys,'" said Dow, a 34-year veteran of Marriott International who took over the association on Jan. 1.

"(But) if someone comes to the United States ... their perception about the U.S. is much more positive, by about 15 percent, than someone who hasn't visited. ... If they visit three times, they become an advocate," Dow added, citing data from Washington's Pew Research Center.

Approximately 51.2 million foreigners visited the United States in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of Travel & Tourism Industries. The following year, traveler fears in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks resulted in only 46.9 million foreign visitors, the department reported.

Last year, that total again exceeded 46 million, but Dow said his association was projecting international travel would top 2000's total this year. After Hurricane Katrina, he no longer expects foreign visitation will top 51 million in 2005, thanks largely to negative media coverage overseas.

"I think that disaster set us back 10 to 15 years in global perceptions about our country," Dow said. "Al-Jazeera, French TV, German TV and media around the world were not showing pictures of a young Coast Guard person who went into the water for the 42nd time so he could pull out one more person. They were showing pictures of downtrodden people ... with guns roaming down the street."

Expedia.com research showed a 15 percent dip in foreign bookings in the days immediately following Katrina, Dow said. He also questioned whether strict new visa policies, including required fingerprints, have told foreign travelers they're not wanted in the United States.

Sheriff Bill Young agreed with Dow's assertion that travel destinations must convey a safe image. But law enforcement and resort representatives must also avoid taking things too far and scaring people away, he added.

To promote safety without resembling a police state, Las Vegas police are encouraged to interact with tourists they encounter when on patrol, Young said.

"I think Las Vegas has struck a pretty good balance. ... There are eyes watching you, but not in an intrusive or some type of negative way," said Young, whose Metropolitan Police Department partnered the 14th annual conference along with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Nevada Tourist Safety Association.

To aid travel industry workers recover from Katrina, the Travel Industry Association launched a Web site, www.katrinajobs.org, that lists jobs in other parts of the country. Harrah's Entertainment, Las Vegas Sands Corp. and MGM Mirage are among participants, Dow said.

About 260,000 travel industry positions were lost in the 50 Gulf Coast counties and parishes most affected by Hurricane Katrina, Dow said. In addition, the ongoing lack of visitors to the once-popular region has already reduced domestic travel spending by approximately $50 million per day, he added.