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Benjamin Spillman

Hotel chain exec sees tourism, travel as foreign policy

25 January 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Las Vegas casinos have long targeted big-spending foreign gamblers to help boost the bottom line.

Look for an even broader version of that strategy to emerge far off the Strip now that Loews Hotels owns a nongaming property at Lake Las Vegas.

Loews Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Tisch touts foreign tourism as a tool not only for making money but also for world diplomacy.

"My belief is that travel and tourism can be used as an effective foreign policy," said Tisch, who is also on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. "When visitors come to this country it breaks down stereotypes and opens them up to seeing the America many only read about."

Travel and tourism in the United States generate nearly $654 billion annually, he said. But America's share of the world travel market has fallen from 9 percent to 6 percent since 1992.

Business arrivals to the United States fell 10 percent to 7 million in 2004-05, while business visits to Europe grew 8 percent to 84 million.

Tisch said the negative perception of the United States, reports of long lines and rude treatment from customs officials and long waits for visas deserve some of the blame. For example, Tisch said, people in Brazil and India sometimes face waits of 100 days or more in getting a visa.

In Las Vegas, 12 percent of the more than 38 million visitors are from other countries. Foreign visitors are appealing because they tend to stay longer and spend more than domestic travelers.

McCarran International Airport has a long list of existing and future accommodations aimed at making travel easier for foreign visitors. The airport uses international symbols on signs, offers a phone-based foreign language translation service 24 hours per day when personal assistance is unavailable and offers travel information in German, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese.

The airport has added an international first-class lounge and a second international baggage claim at an existing terminal.