Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Opinion: America dusts off its welcome mat for global travelers

By Jim Evans, Special to CNN
  • Jim Evans is the CEO for the new Corporation for Travel Promotion
  • The U.S. is lagging behind other countries in attracting international visitors
  • A lack of national promotion and policies perceived as unwelcoming have contributed
  • Corporation for Travel Promotion aims to inform and attract visitors

Editor's Note: This summer, CNN's Defining America project is exploring the stories behind the numbers to show how places are changing. This week, get to know more about your neighbors all across the country -- how they live and love, what they believe in and how they came to call themselves Americans. The week will culminate with a Secret Supper in New York City, and Eatocracy invites you to participate online starting Monday July 11th at 6:30 p.m. ET.

(CNN) -- Global travel is booming. It's faster, safer and cheaper to travel internationally than ever before, and despite the economic downturn, hundreds of millions of travelers are exploring the globe with passports in their hands and spending money in their pockets.

Over the next few decades, exploding growth from India, China and Brazil will produce even more international travelers. But as the global travel market grew by more than 60 million travelers in the past decade, the United States saw zero growth in overseas visitation. As a result, America's share of international arrivals has declined by 37% since 2000.

This happened even though the United States is a country that offers more to visitors than anywhere else in the world.

Our diversity, of both people and geography, makes us a uniquely compelling destination. The U.S. is a country of majestic peaks and expansive desert; of rolling hills and pristine beaches; of towering skyscrapers and chic glamour; of luxurious shopping and colossal amusement parks. No matter what you are looking for in a destination, you can find it in the U.S.A.

And yet, we are failing to keep pace in the global competition for overseas visitors.

Who's coming to the U.S.?

Today, world travelers have an increasing number of alluring destinations from which to choose -- destinations that actively promote themselves and provide potential visitors with access to a host of important travel information. And a number of other countries and destinations around the world have done a much better job than the U.S. at winning the international traveler's business.

Until recently, the U.S. was the only developed country without a national travel promotion strategy. And, at the same time, the U.S. tightened security requirements, fueling the misperception that America is unwelcoming to guests.

It has become clear that the days are long gone when America could rely on reputation and word-of-mouth to attract international travelers. In this new, flat world, the U.S. must regain its competitive edge to grow its travel and tourism industry. Just as we compete globally to produce manufacturing or technology exports, we must also compete to attract world travelers and the spending they bring.

Jim Evans is the CEO of the Corporation for Travel Promotion. He was previously the head of Best Western International.
Jim Evans is the CEO of the Corporation for Travel Promotion. He was previously the head of Best Western International.

There is, however, both good news and a promising way forward. Last year, a bipartisan Congress passed the Travel Promotion Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in March 2010. At no cost to U.S. taxpayers, the act created the Corporation for Travel Promotion, a public-private partnership that will create and execute America's first nationally coordinated marketing program designed to attract more international visitors and provide them with the kind of helpful information they need and expect.

Our top priority is simply spreading the word that Americans wants world travelers to come and visit. The Corporation for Travel Promotion will roll out the "welcome mat" and invite visitors to travel to our shores. We will run a coordinated, multichannel marketing campaign to tell the story of why our country is worth visiting to ensure that travelers move the United States to the top of their list of dream destinations.

It has become clear that the days are long gone when America could rely on reputation and word-of-mouth.
--Jim Evans

We will also spread the word about how the U.S. is easing the international entry process. We want our first impression to be one of hospitality and friendliness. Because negative perceptions tend to linger long after the reality has changed, it's not enough to just fix the problem -- we must also tell the world we did it.

The CTP will get the word out by communicating to the world that visiting America is easier than they may think.

The average overseas visitor spends $4,000 per trip. By welcoming more visitors, we will spur job creation and increase spending in communities around the country. But even beyond such economic dividends, in this time of economic recovery, a more visible welcome mat will boost global goodwill toward the United States.

The millions of travelers who accept our invitation will come to America and experience our people and values first-hand. It will create the kind of positive word-of-mouth buzz of which marketers dream.

With so much to offer as a destination, the key to winning the competition for global tourism begins by attracting visitors. Once they are here, our country can speak for itself.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jim Evans.

Jim Evans is the CEO of the Corporation for Travel Promotion, a new public-private partnership with the mission of promoting increased international travel to the United States.