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US Marketers Optimistic Tourism is Rebounding - 2004-04-28

Regional tourist authorities and popular tourist sites have been marketing themselves at a travel convention.

The name "Pow Wow" is drawn from the Native American word for a tribal council, and Mike Pina of the Travel Industry Association of America says this meeting attracts 5,000 people from 65 countries.

"If someone is trying to put together a travel package to the United States, whether it's to Disneyland or California or Montana or New York, they need to be able to meet with all the airlines and all the hotels and all the car rental companies in one location, to put together pricing packages, brochures, things of that nature. We allow them to do that at Pow Wow," he explains.

International tourism is a $90 billion business in the United States, and tourism officials like Greg Bedan are promoting their part of the country.

"We consider Indiana, of course, as Main Street Americana," says Mr. Bedan.

He says his Midwestern state is not far from Chicago and is accessible to foreign visitors.

"As far as our international market, our biggest hook, of course, is motor sports," he explains. "And the only U.S. grand prix is held in Indianapolis. I think we're going into our fifth year for the U.S. grand prix, which will be this June 20."

On Memorial Day Weekend in late May, Indianapolis also offers thrills for fans of auto racing. That weekend the city will host the Indianapolis 500.

Conventional tourist sites are also looking for business here. Bob Deuel is with the Disneyland Resort in California. He says the tourist industry went into a slump after the terrorist attacks of September, 2001, but he says it is slowly rebounding.

"And it really depends on the markets," he stresses. "Canada's doing very, very well for us. Mexico continues to do well. Those, traditionally for Disneyland, are our two largest markets. I'd love to see some more people from Japan."

So would Mollie Gregory. She's from Mississippi.

"Mississippi is a unique place, and it's a great Southern state," she notes.

It's a state, she says, known for its warm weather and blues music.

"Mississippi is the birthplace of the blues, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, they all began in Mississippi and eventually made their way up the legendary blues highway, Highway 61, to Memphis and Chicago," she says. "But if you really want to see the blues, you really need to go down to Mississippi. "

Wherever you go in the country, there's a good chance there's a shopping mall run by the Taubman Company. Spokeswoman Karen MacDonald says the Woodfield Shopping Center in suburban Chicago is the leading tourist attraction in the region, and the Cherry Creek mall in Denver is the top tourist destination in that city.

"Because shopping is the number one activity of travelers, domestic and international travelers," she says.

Ms. MacDonald says her company's malls attract both.

"For instance, Miami is very popular with Latin America, as is Beverly Center," she explains. "Beverly Center in Los Angeles is very popular with Asia as well. Tourism is definitely coming back."

The terrorist attacks of 2001 hurt the travel business, and some worry that new security regulations now in place at U.S. airports may discourage overseas visitors from coming.

Kimberly Weissman of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reassured tour operators that the procedures enacted this year are just a minor inconvenience.

"A traveler coming here on a visa comes to the port of entry and they are required to give, first, their left index finger and then their right index finger on a digital finger scan plate, and also a digital photograph," she explains.

The new rules have angered some civil liberties groups, but she insists the procedures are easy and take just 15 seconds per person.

Bob Deuel of the Disneyland Resort says the U.S. dollar is weak and that helps the travel business. He says visitors will find that their Euro or Yen will go further than it used to. He says that's good for visitors and good for Disneyland and other tourist destinations.