Four more steps America could take to encourage more international tourism

August 13, 2012, 12:02 PM · On Friday, I suggested four steps the United States could take to help encourage more international visitors to come to our country. Today, I'll offer four more suggestions. But these are two-step suggestions, ones that will take quite a bit more time and investment than the suggestions I offered Friday.

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.

Tokyo Disney monorail
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.

Comments welcomed.

Replies (30)

August 13, 2012 at 12:18 PM · I love the idea about all Americans having a passport. I've had one since High School, and I do my best to put it to use at least every other year. Yes, we live in a great nation, but anyone who thinks the citizens of other countries chant, "We're number two! We're number two!" during their national holidays is living with their heads up their butts. The best way to understand the rest of the world is to visit it.
August 13, 2012 at 12:25 PM · Some suggestions are like taking a page from the socialist manifesto. Give me a break! Encouraging unions? So the unions can strike and strand tourists for weeks and months? This happens a lot in Europe.

While I would love to not tip, I think its a bad idea to reward bad service. I especially hate how the French is impervious to meeting customer needs for menial tasks, which they are supposedly paid to provide. I don't think all wages should be based on social engineering. Some jobs pay low based on skill level.

Why use public transit and rely on it to get around when it might be easier to book an excursion. Navigating is a BIG time waster.

Learning a language is fine, but how many? Europe has tons of languages. How about Asia with 4 major languages (Korean, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese). You cited the immigration issue. This has actually made learning a language less pressing. Many immigrants never learn the local language since much services are done in their native language. We can properly cite English as the universal language.

I agree that more Americans should travel, but it isn't cheap and it still doesn't change how our services respond to foreign travellers. Our immigrants have already brought it close to home.

August 13, 2012 at 12:45 PM · Absolutely. I grew up in northern New Jersey and now live in NYC. I have also lived in Florida in Ohio, and couldn't believe the lack of railways in metropolitan areas. This country NEEDS more mass transit systems, but Congress seems to disagree. They're cutting funding, causing fare hikes; a move that will leave less money in the pockets of middle/lower class workers who can't afford cars, and rely on mass transit to get to/from work.

It would be nice to see more tourist destinations include tips in their prices. I have visited (and served at) many resorts, and the best of them include a 10 or 15% gratuity on the check. Disney should begin to do this, and include this disclaimer on the check:
"A 15% gratuity has been included on the check. In the U.S., a 20% gratuity is considered standard. If you feel you received excellent service, please consider leaving an additional tip."
They could also print out the amount that the additional 5% tip would be.

The United States has always been behind in teaching languages. perhaps due to the our status as a financial superpower. Other countries sought out our business, and catered to us by speaking our language. Europeans have never had that luxury, due to the concentration of so many cultures and languages in such a small area. I learned Spanish in Junior High and High School, but never achieved much mastery over the language, despite taking it for six years. I'm pleased to see schools have begun teaching languages much earlier in school, but the classes still aren't totally effective. My niece took Chinese (I don't know which dialect) all through elementary school, and yet she only knows a few words. We definitely need to implement more effective language courses in schools, especially now that our status as a financial superpower is sinking.

August 13, 2012 at 12:52 PM · I can't help but notice Anon Mouse's pessimistic comments on so many posts on this site. It's sad that a site devoted to places that bring so much joy to millions of people can elicit such negative responses.
August 13, 2012 at 12:58 PM · No more tipping,I hate having to do this when I come from the UK. Pay american workers better wages. I also hate it when servers go on about tipping,I'll tip if you deserve it.
August 13, 2012 at 1:02 PM · Theres simple ways to avoid rewarding bad service. Stop patronizing the place where you experience it and/or complain to management. Job done. If you want to reward extra good service with a tip, feel free.

In Britain we complain a lot about the railways, and some complaints are valid, the fair system is almost uniteligable, and some train companies are rather harsh with the penalty fares if you happen to have caught the wrong train by accident (or been mislead about the validity of your ticket), but what can't be denyed is that it goes just about eveywhere, and in at most cases at fairly frequent intervals - heck you can even travel overnight from almost anywhere in Scotland into London to arrive before 8am.

Public transport is often joined up in thinking. One website will find how to get to your destination using almost any mode of public transport you can think of. Marvellous.

Other languages... Well English does have that magical ability where if we speak it loud enough and slow enough people understand us ;-) In other countries such as Australia is considered by the government to be an essential for future prosperity for a reasonable amount of the population to be able to speak some Asian language (With Japanese, Mandarin and Indonesian the big ones); I think in Primary levels its an essential part of the curriculum.

Passports are only typically valid for 10 years or so (based on my Aus/UK experience), so that wont work unless free renewals are also offered (and given the high cost of passports in both the UK and Australia, I don't see it happening)

August 13, 2012 at 1:06 PM · @ Anon Mouse

I live in Europe (The UK actually) where unions are quite strong. Name the last time a union striked here in Europe in a way that stranded tourists.

Now, on the other hand look at non union Ryanair. A company that pays below normal rate, makes you pay for your own training (which is exorbitant for people in the airline industry), a company that makes you pay for your uniform... In the end you end up paying them to work... For yourself - they make you register your own little pretend private business so they can screw you out of basic benefits like sick pay. Oh, and if Ryanair close your base and reassign you to the other side of the continent, you're on your own.

August 13, 2012 at 1:19 PM · @Chad: London had a threatened strike by rail and bus unions, which was averted. Perhaps this was a warning about the power of the unions to affect the Olympic games.

Greece had a major strike in 2012. Spain had a slow down that impacted commuters and travellers in 2010.

@Jack: You might call it pessimistic, yet you have not rebutted anything I wrote.

Why public transportation isn't realized more in the States is testament to the reality that it isn't needed. The population density in the U.S. does not compare with Europe and Asia. Just having a nice network will not pay the bills and in this recession, we can't afford it.

August 13, 2012 at 1:24 PM · @ Anon. And this would not have stranded tourists, and in some cases a court order prevented strike. Meanwhile the Private security company (G4S) only told us with days to go they wouldnt be able to show up, requiring the military to step in to do their job - no union responsible there. Darn Socialised Security forces - no wait, those are the guys who showed up on no notice.

Yet in neither strike you cite do I see instances of tourists being "Stranded" for weeks and months. Still waiting for this.

August 13, 2012 at 1:43 PM · @Chad "Still waiting for this." And you can keep waiting for I don't know what you're expecting. As I don't rely on public transportation, I will not be using it.

When I say tourists are stranded, it means they cannot use such transportation and their traveling plans change. They obviously do something else.

I suppose its enough of a problem that Greece's government offers a guarantee.

"Greece says it will cover the extra costs for any tourists stranded in the country as a result of industrial action or natural disaster."

Here's another one.

"Tourists stranded by Greek strike in port of Piraeus
Striking workers prevented tourists from boarding ferries
Dock workers have gone on strike in Greece's main port, Piraeus, preventing thousands of holidaymakers from catching ferries."

"Egypt - 5000 Tourists stranded after strike closes harbour in Luxor - Buses hired"



"Transit Strikes Gum Up Commutes In France, London"

"Across the English Channel, millions struggled to get to work and tourists hurriedly revamped their travel plans as a strike by London Underground workers closed much of the city's subway system. It was the first of several such 24-hour strikes planned for this fall."

August 13, 2012 at 2:08 PM · Pireus: 2 days
Egypt: Since when has Egypt been in Europe?
France: By your own admission, 24 hrs. Also did you read this bit:

Commuters in Paris packed into limited subway cars or drove during the reduced service, while London buses overflowed with passengers and congestion clogged British highways. City sidewalks were full of walkers and thousands of bikers took to the streets in both European capitals.

So much for constant strikes in Europe stranding tourists for weeks and months. One 2 day strike in Greece preventing people boarding ferries, fair enough. One strike in Luxor - Egypt, and reduced service in London and Paris - hardly stranded.

August 13, 2012 at 2:23 PM · @Anon

No, I did not rebut anything you wrote (except for all the places I did in my comment that wasn't a response to you), because I don't care to get into a political discussion on a theme park website. I come here for my enjoyment; not for arguments.

You strike me as this website's Eeyore; "Nothing's going to make anything any better, so why bother trying?"

I sincerely hope that you're a just an internet troll trying to bait people into fighting. As sad as that would be, it's better than the idea of someone who just hates everything.

August 13, 2012 at 2:38 PM · @Chad: Okay, one more time.

"It was the first of several such 24-hour strikes planned for this fall."

More than one incidence. Obviously, you haven't read it.

Hardly stranded since they have alternatives. Or perhaps when you visit Europe, you shouldn't rely on public transportation since it doesn't matter at all for tourism. Its not a feature.

When I said the strikes stranded the tourists, they did. Goodness. I though you were more aware.

I threw Egypt in there. Not Europe, but defintely International Tourism.

August 13, 2012 at 2:31 PM · @Jack Curley: You gotten it wrong. This post is "eeyore" because it is about how America sucks at tourism, so I don't get your complaint.
August 13, 2012 at 2:41 PM · @ Anon. I caught the bus today. This bus began its journey in a nation within the European union, and it ended there. One of us takes European public transport to work every day. I rely upon it, and the only time it has let me down is in the worst cold snap in something like a decade when it was too dangerous for the busses and trains to run on most routes, but it didnt matter as my work closed for the same reason.

I have read that part of the article but still fail to see how it proves your original claim: series of 24 hour strikes even in a worst possible case scenario still strands tourists for... 24 hours - normal service resumes for a few days, and then there's another stop.

But of course, the strike was in london where there are a fleet of Black Cabs, Minicabs, Busses, Trains (outside of the underground system) light rail and now even a chairlift just waiting to help tourists get around. Heck, you can even rent a public bike in London now if you want to get around yourself.

You have utterly failed to prove your initial point, that unions cause tourists to be regularly stranded for weeks and months outside of the USA. It simply doesn't happen.

Now if instead you wanted to point to a non European example, why not take the Qantas shutdown... No wait, that was management locking everyone out because the Pilots wore red ties and made some PA announcements.

August 13, 2012 at 2:46 PM · @Anon

The post is CONSTRUCTIVE. It doesn't say that America is bad at tourism, but it offers up what we could do to get BETTER.

Your criticism is not constructive. You just shoot everything down and offer up no ideas of how to improve things. You seem to think that everything stinks, and nothing is ever going to make it better. Your tail will keep falling off, so why bother putting it back on?

Unions are bad, waiters are bad, public transit is bad, learning one language is okay, but really it's bad because then people are going to expect us to learn MORE languages.

August 13, 2012 at 3:10 PM · @Chad: You failed to dispute me that there are no strikes. Now, you're hung up on weeks and months.

"Name the last time a union striked here in Europe in a way that stranded tourists."

Greece. London.

Months.... London in 24 hour intervals.

You have your answer that I already answered. Just because you said a strike ended within 24 hours doesn't mean it doesn't keep happening. It keeps happening over and over again.

"Rail workers also began their one-day action late on Tuesday, that is set to bring chaos to France's railways."


"The unions warned of severe disruptions, with only one in four suburban trains serving the capital and one in three high-speed TGV operating."

Of course, this happens for weeks and months.... Yearly. Over and over again.

"French public transportation worker unions have urged workers to strike for a three days in an effort to pressure the government to drop plans to increase the retirement age. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is refusing to back down at all on the issue of raising the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62."

August 13, 2012 at 3:13 PM · But again, noone was stranded in London. No body. National rail still runs when the tube strikes. Busses still run when the tube strikes. Docklands light rail doesn't even have drivers, the emirate air line still runs when the tube strikes, and you better believe the black cabs and minicabs do to. If you can't get around London when the tube stops, well you aren't even trying at all, you are minorly inconvenienced at best. No more or less than when it's closed for maintenance.

The only way your statement holds up is if we redefine "weeks and months" to mean "a day or two" and stranded to mean " stuck once in Greece, and slightly inconvenienced in Paris and London" and constantly to mean "occasionally".

August 13, 2012 at 3:21 PM · @Anon Mouse

I live in the UK and I'm sorry but you are talking crap. There have been no instances of tourists being stranded in London for even 24 hours. There have been a tiny number of short term strikes over the last few years, (they are very rare and affect at most one particular type of public transport), and at most they have caused some inconvenience. Not exactly dire.

Please don't pontificate about countries you do not live in and know nothing about other than what your over-worked imagination constructs from your news coverage.

Perhaps we can just ignore this guy's rantings folks and enjoy this site for what it is meant to be...

August 13, 2012 at 3:25 PM · Yes, a series of 24 hour strikes does keep happening, however they still don't strand people for weeks or months. In the worst case they strand for hours, back to normal, then back to strike - they do not have a single indefinite rolling strike. They most certainly do not strand people in London or Paris where they have alternative transport. The term is "slightly inconvenienced" by having to use an alternative route or provider.

Again with Paris I still see noone being stranded. I see an emergency timetable - services still running. People having to take a different route or go at a different time than normal or use an alternative means of transport of which I am sure there are many in Paris. Not stranded.

When was the last time you took public transport in Europe?

August 13, 2012 at 3:52 PM · No one is stranded. Okay, I concede because you can use something else. Is public transportation still a selling point? I don't know anymore.

I find it amazing that you think I'm talking crap when what I said was true. You admitted there are strikes that cause some inconvenience. You really don't know the effect on tourism. Or maybe it doesn't matter since tourists use something else. Certainly, not "dire". Lets just plan around these things BY NOT USING THEM. LOL!!!

I guess its better that a strike happens in UK because surely a strike in France and Greece is far worse. Not sure if I should laugh.

BTW, most tourists are in the country for a few days to a week. There's no keeping a tourist in the country when a strikes happens. They just leave as expected.

August 13, 2012 at 3:56 PM · Exactly, they leave on the same day they're expected.

Oh and that other thing that we suggested they use, did you fail to notice that it to was... Public Transport!

August 13, 2012 at 5:00 PM · Politics have prevented the mass transit thing. Ask the Governor of FL
August 13, 2012 at 5:44 PM · Public you don't know the difference.

Transportation in cities are usually publicly owned and defined as "mass transit". Transportation to and from cities are usually via airlines that are privately owned. The service you get from the two are completely different.

August 13, 2012 at 8:16 PM · Don't get nitpicky. He meant mass transit when he said public transport. As he said, the strikes were on the tube. Above ground trains still ran, buses still ran... all of those are mass transit. London was obviously smart enough not to unify all their transit options under one authority so that a strike couldn't cripple the city.

Once again, as a resident of New York, the largest city in the United States, mass transit it a complete necessity here. The population of Manhattan doubles during work hours, and there just aren't enough roads to handle all of those cars. Trains and buses are the fuel that this city runs on.

You may think "navigating is a big time waster", but it's actually a huge time saver for commuters around here. It takes a lot longer to get into the city via car than it does via train. Plus, you can use that time to read, listen to music, or do work instead of sitting behind the wheel getting angry because you're running late.

August 14, 2012 at 12:56 AM · I also don't think mass transit would work in much of the US. We're just too spread out from each other. And this is from San Diego where at least one leg of our light rail system has to be counted a rousing success (Tijuana/San Diego). The biggest US city - New York - has little in common with the 2nd biggest - Los Angeles. It's easy - for me at least - to see why mass transit works well in NY while working not so well in LA. Maybe not easy to explain, but I can see it in my head. Yeah, not helpful, I know. The best way I can say it has to do with the LA "sprawl".
August 14, 2012 at 1:19 AM · Robert - totally agree with your thoughts. I have been to the US on 11 seperate occasions (I live in the UK) and the biggest bugbears for me are the tipping (and knowing how much) and the lack of public transport, especially as I am a non driver.
Your comments on border control
'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.'
- are SO TRUE, never have I felt more like a criminal, than when I am at the immigration desk about to enter the US. Now I'm not saying have a slacker immigration policy, its just that I don't appreciate being made to feel I have done something wrong, when I haven't!
August 14, 2012 at 5:07 AM · i think the last lot of comments have completly lost the plot. Unless you have spent time in Singapore, Hong Kong or Tokyo you have no idea what mass transit means, like when the station master appologises that the train is 30 seconds late, I think the mass transits systems in the big australian cities are great considering our vast spaces and very low population and having traveled in the Uk and some of europe their systems are better than ours. The mickey train to disney HK is great fun. Whilst I agree that the west coast US would be enhanced with fast mass transit eg airport to disney I think that tourists in general would be more concerned with the possability of being killed in mass shooting than being inconveienced with a strike - Yes I was stuck in San fransico when the trams went on strike without warning -
August 14, 2012 at 10:16 AM · Not only does LA and the rest of So Cal... heck most of the US has a different structure than NYC or even San Francisco where Public Transit does work, I think there's a huge cultural difference in Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, etc.

Many people have a lot of pride in driving a car. It makes them feel independent as they're going places on their own schedule. Now this doesn't apply to everyone, but suburbanites would rather take a taxi than take a train or bus.

But I definitely agree that suburban sprawl has affected the use of trains and buses. People living in suburbia don't want a train in their backyard either.

A high speed train going from San Diego to Disneyland, Los Angeles to Disneyland, or San Francisco to Disneyland would be awesome. The only thing I hate about going to DLR is the late night drive home if I can't make plans to stay overnight.

And the Eeyore comments? I've learned to ignore the constant negativity.

August 14, 2012 at 1:34 PM · I think that traveling even in the US changes a person's perseptive on service; both getting and giving service. You would not believe the number of people I run into that have rarely gotten out of California (I don't count a trip to Vegas as traveling out of CA)much less have even gone to San Diego or Eureka. Travel of any kind seems to be a thing our parents did, since people can now "travel" through the internet or by way of their TVs.
Having a passport would be great, how about starting with a free birth certificate; I don't have an "offical" one because I am still waiting for it to be mailed to me and I had to pay $15. to get it. This is my 1st "offical" birth certificate; never mind a pasport. That is my next goal, to get one.
As far as learning a lanague in school; our public schools are backwards in that process. When I was in high school I couldn't take a lanague class until I had an over all B+ average and an A in at least 1 semester of 10th or 11th grade English with a B+ average there as well. Talk about a dis-incentive, I had enough trouble with just passing my classes and that wasn't due to a lack of trying.

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