But faced with the April 15 demise of the U.S. Travel & Tourism Administration and its $16.3 million budget, of which only a tiny portion went for media advertising, private industry is stepping in temporarily to deal with overseas tour operators.
The eventual goal of the new USA National Tourism Organization is an annual budget approaching $80 million to advertise the U.S. as a destination to foreign tourists.
The travel industry intends to push Congress to recognize the importance of advertising abroad.
The Travel & Tourism Administration fell victim to Congress' concerns about "corporate welfare." Congress felt the travel industry, rather than the U.S. government, should be bearing the burden of the kind of day-to-day dealing with tour operators the agency was doing.
Travel industry officials decry the lack of advertising for the U.S. this year. They said the U.S. share of international tourism dollars dropped last year to 15.7%, from 18.7%, as other countries expanded their efforts and two traditional U.S.-tourist sources, Mexico and Canada, went through recessions.
The Canadian government last year tripled its contribution to tourism marketing to $43 million, while Australia is currently reviewing its worldwide tourism account, estimated at up to $80 million.
`NOT KEEPING PACE'
"It seems logical to do all in our power to promote the U.S.," said Sandra Fulton, VP-industry relations for Opryland, and vice chairman of the newly formed NTO. "It's no longer a secret that international tourism pays off. We are in competition and we are not keeping pace."
Greg Farmer, undersecretary of commerce for travel and tourism, said the Commerce Department will begin collecting some of the statistics the Travel & Tourism Administration had handled, but he also called for more money.
"We need to be more aggressive," Mr. Farmer said.