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Chris Jones

Exec Promotes Tourism as Peace Plan

15 April 2004

LAS VEGAS -- A leader of the hospitality industry on Wednesday offered a two-point solution to global terrorism -- turned-down beds and gourmet meals.

Espousing a concept often voiced by one of the world's pioneering hotel developers, the chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based American Hotel & Lodging Association said one of the best ways to promote world peace is through increased international leisure and business travel.

"Global tourism is a wonderful way to convince people that we in America are loving people," Dieter Huckestein, an executive with Hilton Hotels Corp., said during the opening session of this year's Las Vegas International Hotel & Restaurant Show. "Our company's founder, Conrad Hilton, coined this phrase: `World peace through world trade and travel.' "

Inbound foreign travel in the United States has dipped from about 50.9 million people in 2000 to 40.3 million last year, the U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of Travel and Tourism Industries reports.

Despite the decrease, Huckestein remains confident that many around the globe maintain a strong interest in visiting the United States. He's even more confident that America would be better off if most of those would-be travelers could easily travel here.

"There are 6 billion people living in this world, and they do want to visit Las Vegas, Hawaii, New York, Florida and other places" in the United States, Huckestein said. "They want to share what we have."

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government implemented tougher restrictions on inbound foreign travel, including an oft-delayed Visa Waiver Program that would require visitors from 27 nations be equipped with machine-readable, and eventually, biometric-enhanced passports before they enter the country.

Huckestein said improved security procedures remain important. But he hopes a balance can be struck that prevents such measures from severely affecting American business interests.

Bruce Bommarito, executive director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, supported that opinion.

"The people in Washington mean well and do things that protect the nation, but they don't always think of the outside perspective," Bommarito said. "We probably ought to do a better job of public relations, explaining to (travelers) that security measures are not because we distrust them, it's because we want to make them more safe."

Bommarito said biometric technologies, once widely in place around the world, will make international travel easier because "the good guys will be protected" through improved and accurate data about travelers.

Huckestein described the continuing fear of terror attacks as "nothing new," noting his own experiences dealing with the aftermath of a 1983 attack against U.S. Marines in Lebanon, as well as a bomb that killed several people when it exploded in the lobby of a Hilton hotel he once oversaw in London. Despite such incidents, he said the hotel and restaurant industries have always recovered because their customers enjoy spending time in the environments they provide.

"People are gregarious," Huckestein said. "They want to travel, they want to meet with people and they want to have fun, particularly after 9-11, when friends and family have become a tremendous marketing tool and (hospitality business) driver."

Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt, chairwoman of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, also touted the benefits of global tourism during her keynote address. She urged those who attend this week's trade show to later return home and lobby their elected leaders to support legislation that encourages further growth in the worldwide hospitality industry.