There are 27 days to go for the annual tourism fair known as ITB that takes place in Berlin every year. Anyone who has exhibited or visited there knows the dramatic visual effects created by nations and states in a bid to expose their tourism wares to the tour and travel professionals as well as the traveling public. The exhibits range from replicas of villages and hotels to even ships, airliners and race tracks with an assortment of live entertainment thrown in. The United States pavilion (which has little to no government sponsorship) has, over the years, seen change – usually for the worse. In the post 9/11 years, all exhibitors from the US were tucked away in a remote part of the gargantuan “messe” or exhibition hall surrounded by fortress like walls with a formidable security process to enter. The premise was that, after 9/11, Americans could be attacked anywhere – not an unfounded thought but, its execution, in a tourism setting did everything to dissuade not encourage visitors. Added to that, dour bureaucrats from the Department of Homeland Security were sent along to explain the fingerprint process with a live demonstration that only underscored the intimidating factor in the entire routine.
Last year, in partial recognition of the complaints from US exhibitors, the walls came down but not much else was done. Organizations like the Discover America Partnership, a strong alliance of senior travel industry executives are busy urging government leaders to “soften” the US’s stance towards foreign visitors in all areas from visa processing to customs. The hope is that there will be at least a stop, if not a reversal of the steady erosion of market share that the US enjoyed in terms of foreign travel. For starters, the US could take a cue from India, whose advertising this year adorns just about everything connected with ITB 2007 including the main page on their website.