I know a way to make headlines — positive, approving headlines — for tourism to the U.S. It involves announcing a major gift to foreign visitors that would dramatically display our regard for them. It would cost nothing, require only a small amount of effort on the part of public officials and would be infinitely more effective than all of the overseas advertisements and TV commercials to be funded by the new Tourism Promotion Act recently passed by Congress.
The effort would take the form of an announcement by the president that henceforth, foreign tourists visiting the U.S. would receive free-of-charge, in-city transportation on the subways and buses of our dozen or so most important tourist cities. They, their mayors and city councils, would be asked, as a matter of patriotic service, to create a system whereby hotels would be authorized to issue free transportation cards to overnight foreign guests upon their presentation of passports identifying them as bona fide tourists.
The loss of that revenue to the local bus and subway systems would be utterly inconsequential, but the impact on the touristic experience would be mammoth. It would be a remarkable sign of hospitality, and would be publicized heavily throughout the world.
Already, various overseas cities are providing that free privilege to their own foreign visitors. At a recent presentation of the Swiss National Tourist Office, it was revealed that the cities of Geneva and Basel issue free transit passes to tourists who overnight in their hotels. Stockholm does the same (hotel guests are issued a "Stockholm A La Carte" card, which, besides transportation, provides free admission to various museums and other city attractions).
Actually, a large number of international cities already provide free or partially free in-city transportation to tourists, which of course makes touring much less expensive, especially for families. They include Adelaide and Perth, Australia; Zagreb, Croatia; Auckland, New Zealand; and areas of Bangkok. Take a look at the Web site www.FreePublicTransit.org.
How difficult would it be for the new tourism promotion board to persuade a dozen city councils to participate in a nationwide program of free in-city transportation for genuine foreign tourists? One of the eminent public figures that will be appointed to that board should find it relatively easy to persuade municipalities to do their part, especially since the effort involves no realistic financial sacrifice on their part. And surely the job of such persuasion would be a better use of the promotion board time than the boring program to place ads in foreign newspapers, extolling the attractions of the United States — as if the world is unaware of our attractions.
Let's do something tangible to promote foreign tourism to the U.S.