Four more steps America could take to encourage more international tourism
Published: August 13, 2012 at 12:02 PM
Why is this important? International tourism can provide a huge boost to an economy. With the American economy struggling to recover from recession, and with theme park fans ever-hungry for new and better attractions, an increase in international tourism can help bring more dollars into America, helping the country as a whole. And when those dollars are spent on theme park attractions, parks become more willing to make big new investments.
Now that's a train!
5. Build more mass transit to tourist destinations
I've never rented a car abroad. I haven't had to. In Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom and France, I've been able to get to all the great tourist destinations I've wanted to visit simply by using other available transportation options - trains and buses. Try to do that in America.
Unfortunately, mass transit doesn't work when you build far-flung attractions, dozens miles away from one another. In order to make train transit affordable and effective in the United States, we'd need to develop a commitment to what's called "transit-oriented development." In short, we'd have to design future development hand-in-hand with plans for new rail routes and stations, so that new attractions, lodging, dining, and retail would be located within reasonable walking distance of stations.
That's what is beginning to happen in Los Angeles County, as communities develop transit-oriented development plans around the county's emerging light-rail system. The Disneyland and Universal Orlando Resorts both are strong candidates for inclusion in an effective rail transit plan, given their compact layouts. And by providing free bus service to hotel guests through Disney's Magical Express, Walt Disney World at least has developed a bus-based mass transit system that's workable. But neither Orange County - in Florida or California - has yet linked these resorts to local airports or other destinations through an effective, large-scale mass transit system, like you can find at Disney in Tokyo and Paris, or Universal in Singapore or Japan.
6. No more tipping
Building upon my suggestion last week to include taxes in all published prices, ending the custom of tipping in restaurants, hotels, etc. would help tourists see the real price of any transaction. You'd know exactly how much a meal would cost, up front, and with no mental calculations for taxes and tips.
To make this fantasy happen, however, American businesses would have to begin paying servers a living wage, instead of relying upon their customers to make up the difference from the sub-minimum wage restaurants now pay their service employees. Unless there's a huge revival of labor unions, or Americans start electing labor-friendly representatives to Congress, I can't imagine how that would happen.
There is one way we could move closer to this goal however, and it wouldn't take an act of Congress. Disney could again include service in its Disney Dining program, as it did for years before eliminating the tips from that once-truly all-inclusive dining deal. That'd make life a little easier for visitors to the Walt Disney World Resort - not to mention for the servers who get stiffed by visitors who don't realize that their Disney Dining deal doesn't include compensation for their waiters.
7. Encourage more Americans to speak other languages
Why do so many Americans consider being monoglot a mark of superiority? As much as the French demand people at least attempt to speak their language in their country, I found few French who couldn't speak English (and usually German, Spanish, or Italian), as well. We have millions of native Spanish and French speakers living with us here in North America. It's not an act of weakness to learn an additional language. It's an act of confidence - confidence that we live in a place so attractive that others will want to visit us, and confidence that we will have the grace and willingness to welcome them.
Of course, we can't support expanded language education in this country without supporting education in general. With climbing child poverty rates depressing test scores and consuming expensive support resources in school districts around the country, I can't imagine where we'd get the money to start and expand foreign language instruction programs at the early elementary level, when they are most effective.
8. Encourage more Americans to travel
I believe that the best hosts are former guests, because you know what it's like to be a visitor to a new place, and know how you wish you'd been treated. This is the reason theme parks usually allow their employees into the park for free during their off hours - they want their workers to see the place through a visitor's eyes, so that they can better meet those visitors' needs when they're back on the clock. So I believe America would be an even more welcoming place to international visitors if more Americans traveled abroad themselves.
What's holding us back? Getting enough time off work. Having the money to afford the flight, plus hotels abroad. (Tip: Never fly abroad on a U.S.-flagged airline. If you're using miles on a U.S.-flagged airline, apply them to a flight on one of the airline's international code-share partners. You'll get far better service and more value for your dollar.) But there's a step the U.S. government could take that would eliminate one barrier to international travel while showing Americans that their nation value travel abroad.
We could issue every citizen a passport at birth, for free. Create a right to identification, one that would allow every American to get a free copy of a passport. Today, only one in three Americans have a passport.
By taking all these steps, we could begin changing our culture, to make it more engaged and welcoming to the rest of the world. And when we do that, perhaps we can change our approach toward border entry, ditching the assumption that every visitor is a potential terrorist who must prove his or her innocence, and moving toward seeing every visitor as an individual, who should be welcomed… then assessed.
These are hardly the only steps America and its citizens could take to encourage more visitors to come to our country. But I think it's important for us to better connect with others outside our country (that's one reason why I love the Internet so much), whether it's by going over "there" or having more of "them" come over here. Let's talk down the xenophobes in our country who think everyone who looks or talks different is an enemy and start talking about ways to build our economy through international outreach, instead.