The Ugly Foreign Traveler?

In New York Hospitality’s post of April 28th, the (unfounded) notion of the ugly American traveler was discussed. The well intentioned but mis-directed efforts of the Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA) alliance in the aftermath of a Pew poll that said Americans were an “arrogant and brash bunch” will surely lead to a lot of spinning wheels. The same poll also noted that Americans “are self-serving and insensitive.” Now along comes another Pew poll that shows “America’s popularity among other nations continues to plummet”. The poll helpfully notes that much of the “decline” is linked to “sinking support for the war in Iraq.” That the Iraq war never had much support outside the US is another matter. But the reaction of tour and travel planners to the poll is as ill informed and misdirected as that of the BDA to the last one.

The Arizona Republic of June 13th quotes the TIA as saying that the “country needs a federally funded marketing campaign to combat the United States’ “image crisis” in the world, according to a major travel industry group”. Federal funds to promote the US as a destination is always a good idea even if it militates against the eminently correct and well founded economic precept that government should stay out of the business of business. However, suggesting that monies be expended to change the mindset of opaque and inherently anti-American governments and even some peoples is utterly wasted.

Roger Dow, President of TIA suggests that “We could divert a little money and for a paltry sum get the world to say, ‘You know what, Americans are all right.’ ” Maybe but unlikely. If he looked at the results of a poll by Pew on the same topic in 2004, he would find remarkably similar negative sentiment overseas. The inflow of foreign tourists to the US since 2004 certainly did not come down as a consequence. Conflating an unpopular war (particularly with the governments of some foreign countries) with opinions of America leads to the wrong conclusion. The sentiment for American culture ideals and ideas remains strong even among ostensibly hostile countries. That sentiment was best summed by a banner held up decades ago by a Filipino demonstrator against the US. It read “Yankee Go Home — And Take Me With You!” In the end, the right inference (if at all for tourism) to be drawn from such a poll is that two of the most populous (and democratic) nations in the world, India and Nigeria had positive impressions of the current US government.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.