The tourism industry took a blow last week when Jim Evans resigned as CEO of Brand USA, the fledgling public-private partnership launched last year to serve as a long-overdue marketing weapon to lure more foreign visitors to the U.S. The whys of his resignation have yet to be fully explained, but on the surface it seems tied to a witch-hunt (I mean a legitimate investigation by Congress) into the expenses and activities of the group.
Specifically under the microscope is the Brand USA launch party, which took place last November as part of World Travel Mart. According to news reports, some Republican members of Congress were piqued because video of the event showed Brand USA board members enjoying themselves at the party. In reality, I think the whole thing is a function of the lingering doubts many people in government have about the value of tourism as an economic engine that produces meaningful balance of trade payments to the U.S. It's also tied to the Puritanical attitude that travel is a frivolous pursuit that somehow should be banned, particularly by anyone remotely connected to government.
And, finally, given the highly partisan nature of Congress, particularly in this presidential election year, I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't another half-assed attempt to create a scandal for the incumbent Administration.
No matter the reasons, should this investigation escalate any further, the loser will be you: the owners, operators and employees of hospitality-related businesses in the U.S. While Brand USA has yet to make a significant impact on the world marketing stage, it has the potential to be a game changer, i.e., to reverse the decades-long slide America has had in the world in terms of foreign tourism. The sad fact is most people who live outside of the U.S., particularly those in the fast-developing third world, are anxious to visit America and spend their new money here, but it's not always easy for them.
What we need is a strong marketing effort to lure these wannabe travelers here, coupled with reasonable and effective customs and immigration policies that serve to welcome the (literally) millions of travelers who want to come here and spend a night or two or 10 in your hotel.
Turn off your computer and call your Congressman right now. Tell him or her to do what he can to prevent further hindrances to this important economic endeavor—and to your livelihood.