eTN Executive Talk: “Obama is a strong welcoming symbol for international visitors to the USA”


The election of Barack Obama as the next US president generates a new wave of interest and positive feeling for the United States as a travel destination. The phenomenon was particularly present during the last World Travel Market show as highlighted by Jay Gray, vice president of the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), which is private professional association in charge of promoting tourism in the United States.

eTN: What is changing following Barack Obama’s election in the tourism world?
Jay Gray: The incumbent administration created a real image problem through its action over the last eight years. The United States has been perceived in very negative terms by many people and we now will have a lot to do to counter this impression. The new Obama administration will certainly change those feeling as the president-elect generated during its campaign a strong wave of support all around the world.

eTN: Will the task be so difficult to change America’s perception for tourists?
Gray: Our problem in the last years is that the United States has been mostly perceived through a prism composed only of foreign policy, administration decisions, security at airports. All those elements had a devastating impact on our image and deterred people to travel. We estimate that we lost since 9/11 over 40 million potential travelers… But we know from surveys that if people did visit the United States, they rather have a positive favorability towards us.

eTN: Do you think that the new administration will look more seriously at attracting again foreign travelers?
Gray: President-elect Barack Obama already indicated its understanding of the importance of tourism. The economic crisis helps us in this sense, as tourism is an element to help soothe the effect of the economic crisis as foreign travelers leave a considerable amount of money into our country. It is estimated that foreign tourists’ spending represents some US$90 billion annually. The future administration has already promised to act more friendly to foreign visitors.

eTN: Entering the United States with its tough security regulations is today discouraging many travelers. Do you think that it will change?
Gray: Security remains an important feature of the safety of all citizens and visitors in our country. However, the Bush administration took security to almost paranoid levels. The new administration understands the need to conceal security with friendliness. We already work to create training programs about friendliness for security staff, taking even tips from Disney Company experts.

eTN: Do you think that the new Obama administration will reinstate a proper state secretary for tourism?
Gray: Barack Obama did not say anything about it. However, we already know that the senator supported the new “Travel Promotion Act” to raise more funds for the promotion of tourism. The election of Mr. Obama is a strong signal for the rest of the world. It shows that the USA is entering a new chapter as it embraces completely its cultural and ethnical diversity. It also shows that the USA is again part of our global world…