The Ugly American Traveler

USA Today has a report on a non-profit group Business for Diplomatic Action whose goals include being “committed to the task of mobilizing U.S. corporations to undertake a variety of coordinated public diplomacy actions that will begin to restore America’s declining reputation”.

The group has put out a World Citizens Guide with a lot of common sense advice to Americans traveling abroad. Suggestions include lowering one’s voice to that of others in the environment and to listen as much as talk. Eminently good ideas that apply to everybody. And therein lies the nub. The problem is not just the Ugly American tourist but any tourist. A walk down New York’s Fifth Avenue on most days (preferably sunny) will reveal loud talking Italians, Germans, French (Yes French) and a host of nationalities whose language is difficult to discern but whose sounds rise above the din of a New York street. But it would be hard to find Americans intolerant of the tower of Babel in their midst.

According to the results of a survey of over 100 countries conducted by DDB Worldwide (a large ad agency) cited by BDA (led by a former Chairman of DDB) interviewees accused Americans of being “uninterested in the World”. Presumably Giovanni in Arezzo, Pierre in Avignon and Yasuhiro in Atami are conversant with, if not well versed in, the finer points of the Internal Revenue tax code.

BDA is said to have the blessings, though not the financial backing, of Under Secretary of State, Karen Hughes. Both their efforts stem from a misguided premise. Any effort to push tourism to America ought to be welcomed by one and all. But one that starts with the notion that Americans are uniquely bad stems from an arrogance of its proponents – bizarrely reminiscent of Mao’s diktats to his people on how to dress, behave and conduct their affairs. BDA’s money and efforts (thankfully not funded by tax dollars) are better used elsewhere.

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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.