Steve Miller: ‘The people in the Greeter Corps for foreign visitors could also act as something of a concierge, [answering questions, perhaps even helping out with their cell phones to make a dinner reservation or two]. My beloved city, Philadelphia, does what is in my judgment a very good job courting tourists, both foreign and domestic.’
☞ Yes! They could answer basic questions, attempt to make entertaining, welcoming conversation (a multilingual corps would be best), explain how the local phone dialing works (in New York, you need to dial 1-212-345-6789 to make a local call; but in Miami, you drop the 1, it’s just 305-345-6789), how the cabs and public transport from the airport work – all that.
And it occurred to me that, in addition to hot chocolate and lemonade, wouldn’t Coke or Pepsi want to sponsor part of this effort? And Starbucks? And perhaps Holiday Inn? Hey, welcome to America.
Chip Ellis: ‘I think the euro at US$1.43 is probably a more welcoming incentive to visit the US than tea and lemonade.’
☞ And yet, right now tourism is down even as our tourism ‘product’ sports a ‘40% off!’ sticker. As my friend Arthur Frommer noted recently (he, of EUROPE ON $5 A DAY fame, where now you can barely get a coffee in Europe for $5), ‘Since 2000, tourism to the United States from abroad has declined by 10%’ – even as tourism to Australia and France (for example) are up 20%. Think of it: the price of our product has been slashed 40%, in foreign currency terms, yet they are attracting more customers even as we are attracting fewer.
Hertz and Avis, Marriott and Disney – they should all chip in for the Greeter Corps. (Shouldn’t every kid in the customs line be given a free pair of Mouse Ears?)
If we could get the number of visitors up 20%, like France, instead of down 10%, the swing would add more than $30 billion in tourist revenues. Surely that’s worth our spending $1 billion a year to do. (Most of the cost would not be the volunteer greeters, but rather expanding the ranks of the customs agents in order to shorten the wait time in line.)
Beyond the $30 billion, there’s the message this would send (you can be sure the initiative would make news around the world): ‘We’re back. We like you and want you to like us. We really do.’
One way to keep the message alive beyond the initial burst of publicity: the Las Vegas Tourist Board could hand foreign visitors million-dollar lottery tickets upon arrival . . . and draw monthly to see which foreign visitor had won.
(Or maybe different casinos would do this in conjunction with different airlines. American Airlines might advertise: ‘Las Vegas not on your itinerary this trip? No worries, Mate. Fly American to America this summer and we’ll give you a $1 million lottery ticket, compliments of the MGM Grand – and free first class airfare to come back and spend it if you win.’)
Too tacky? Maybe. But I’ll bet news of the drawing would make the front page the winner’s hometown paper.
It’s worth trying to think of ways to keep the message out there – that we are a friendly, welcoming people, who ‘are back’ after eight terrible years – because the more people who come here to vacation, to study, and to do business, the more allies around the world we will have for the long run.
MORE SUCH THOUGHTS
Bob Smouse: ‘Having just returned from New Zealand, we were tremendously helped by the I-Sites (information sites) there. The same thing is all over Europe. These are offices which help visitors find housing, restaurants, tours, etc. for modest or no fees. The employees speak several languages to help the majority of tourists from different lands. The USA should sponsor such offices in every primary city, which would greatly improve the reputation of this country as friendly and helpful, and would probably significantly increase tourism, thereby helping our balance of payments.’
Kathi Derevan: ‘I get angry every time I land at LAX and see the luggage carts corralled, waiting for (I thinks it’s $2 now) AMERICAN money. I can’t think of a foreign airport that demands a traveler have ready cash in a currency other than their own, just to be able to get their bags to the curb! ‘Welcome to American, now pay up!’ ‘
FINALLY, AS PROMISED – SOMETHING NOT BORING
Jeff Bauer: ‘Why bother trying to figure out the subprime mortgage mess when these two fellows present it in such a candid and entertaining way?’
☞ Thanks, Jeff.