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WTTC Spotlight: Reviving U.S. Tourism post 9/11

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Did you know that in the last 10 years, the U.S. lost a third of its international long haul travel? This past week Peter Greenberg Worldwide broadcast from the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Global Summit. Peter took time away from the conference to sit down with WTTC Executive Committee member and Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta to discuss the lost decade in U.S. Tourism and what the U.S. needs to do to stay competitive.

Peter Greenberg: What brings you to a conference like this?

Christopher Nassetta: I’m on the executive committee of WTTC and I am very engaged in what they are trying to do. Their mission is to educate people on the importance of travel and tourism globally from an economic point-of-view and domestically from a jobs point-of-view. We work to get governments around the world engaged in solving issues to make travel and tourism grow more quickly–whether that is issues with opening borders, visa programs, or authorities that are taxing travel and tourism in a way that is limiting growth potential.

The WTTC is also actively engaged in the research to prove that travel and tourism is a huge component of global GDP. Right now it is about 9 percent. There are very few sectors that are bigger when you aggregate it together.

PG: It’s the challenge of connecting the dots for government to understand this relationship that exists. Travel is not just vacation. This is money, this is commerce. This is an engine.

CN: I think that there are some governments around the world that have been a little bit more forward-thinking.

PG: As opposed to ours…

CN: Yes, as opposed to ours, but our government is starting to change. Historically, travel and tourism has not gotten a lot of attention in United States. I would say that it is now very different. Recently, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been addressing the issue. I have been very active with them, as have others in the industry, on the visa issue and getting our borders opened in a safe and secure way to satisfy demand that is out there from China, India and other places. We have brand USA.

PG: Brand USA is the first of its kind in the United States. Somebody is actually lobbying for travel!

CN: We never marketed ourselves as a country. We had a fundamental belief that everybody wants to come to American and we don’t need to market ourselves as a country. The reality is that a lot of people DO want to come to American but there are a lot of options in today’s world that didn’t exist 10, 20, or 30 years ago.

It’s a competitive environment and we need to explain to the world why American is a great place. And then we need to give them a way to get in.