America is on sale. Get it while it's hot, world. The post-9/11 tourism slump had the hospitality and transportation industries singing the blues ever since. Yet the feeling I got from many PR reps at the annual Travel Industry Association of America (TIAA) conference in LA is that happy days are here again. Maybe.
"The weakening dollar and pent-up desire for travel seems to be sparking a rebound in visits to the US," says the TIAA's Michael Pina. "More than $3 billion of business has been transacted during this five-day event."
The Europeans and Asians are coming - and everyone wants them. Governor Arnold did his best to sell California during his brief convention speech (more next week), but publicists from Montana to Mobile are scrambling to lure visitors to their neck of the woods.
"We're celebrating the 50th anniversary of rock 'n roll in Memphis, marking the release of Elvis' first record in 1954," says Susan Elliott of the Memphis CVB. "It will culminate in a live worldwide radio broadcast of Scotty Moore [Elvis' guitarist] playing That's All Right Mama on July 5."
Fifty years? Small fries to Vegas, which marks its 100th birthday in 2004, says the city's Centennial publicist Stacy Allsbrook. After all, what happens in Vegas stays... in your bloodstream.
If the King or craps isn't your style, Maine invites you to enjoy a folk festival and the world's best lobster feast. If you can't get there, central Florida PR rep Nancy Hamilton says her turf is "what's right with the world." "The classic American resort destination," counters South Carolina. "The heart of America," boasts Kansas. "Whadda you lookin' at?" snips New Jersey.
But despite the US' giant welcome mat, getting visitors here will not be that easy, says Russian travel agent Maria Shankina. "Half of Russian visa applications to the US are denied," she tells me. Similar rejection percentages are experienced by other Eastern European applicants. That's a big chunk of potential business that TIAA president William Norman doesn't like missing out on. His group has launched a PR effort to lobby the administration for more favorable visa procedures.
Meanwhile, our fast, friendly, super-sized nation stands at the ready, eager to greet that greatest of human cash dispensers - tourists - with open arms and two-for-one coupons. With the possible exception, that is, of the President's home state. "Welcome to Texas," its sign reads. "Don't make us shoot you."
Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer