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US Tourism Industry Begins Initiative to Improve America's International Image

The U.S. tourism industry is launching an initiative to bring more foreign visitors to the United States, in an effort to improve the nation's declining image abroad.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, the image of the United States has steadily declined around the world in recent years. This includes traditional allies, such as Great Britain and Spain. In both those nations, the survey found, America's image has declined more than 20 percent since 2000.

Representative William Delahunt of the northeastern state of Massachusetts says this trend will have a lasting negative impact on U.S. foreign policy, if it continues.

"Because, without the support of people in nations that are traditional allies of the United States, we will not have partners in the war on terrorism," he said.

Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the Travel Industry of America, says the negative image of the U.S. around the world is also affecting a vital area of the nation's economy.

"Over the past 12 years, we have lost 33 percent of our market share of international travelers. So, this has been going on a long time," he said. "One share point, if we could just improve by one share point, that's eight million visitors, $15 billion in revenue, 150,000 jobs."

The decline has spurred Dow and other leaders of the U.S. travel and tourism industry to launch a new initiative, called Discover America Partnership. The program aims to attract 10 million more visitors to the United States each year.

One of the leaders of the new initiative is Jay Rasulo, who serves as chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. During a press conference in Washington earlier this week, Rasulo said the program would utilize "people-to-people" diplomacy to improve America's sagging image in the international community.

"But in the effort to win hearts and minds, we have a unique card to play," he said. "That card is an invitation to visit America, to meet our people and to experience first-hand our values. Because, to see America, is to believe in America."

The initiative cites research that found a 42 percent increase in favorable opinion of the U.S. among those who have visited the country.

Stevan Porter, the president of InterContinental Hotels Group, and chairman of Discover America Partnership, says the program will encourage international visitors to go beyond the usual tourist attractions in the United States.

"Certainly, there are rival places like Washington, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, that seem to always get a disproportionate share of initial arrivals," he said. "But clearly, as people return for the second trip, and as people come for longer periods of time, it is tremendous to discover the heartland, to sort through the Great Lakes, to go down to the Gulf Coast, to better understand Florida, to go all the way up to Alaska and, of course, Hawaii."

Travel and tourism officials say potential visitors face a more difficult bureaucratic process to obtain travel visas to enter the United States since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They are supporting a joint initiative by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security that would streamline the process, using new technology, while maintaining border security.