There are probably several good reasons to explain why the U.S. bid for the 2016 Olympics was so resoundingly dissed by the International Olympic Committee.
The best explanation, I would guess, is money: The IOC -- which has struggled to overcome its scandal-ridden recent past -- sees a vast and untapped market in Latin America for Olympic broadcasting and merchandising rights during the 2016 summer games, and for future growth in Olympic merchandising. So crime-ridden Rio de Janeiro, which also by all accounts presented an attractive bid, won the games, even though President Obama traveled to Copenhagen to try to close the sale for Chicago.
But there is another reason, as yet not well-explored, and that is international revulsion to the hassles of simply entering the United States as a visitor. Every foreign business traveler I know tells me that they brace themselves for the routinely unpleasant experiences at U.S. Customs and Immigration upon arrival at at an American airport.
This is no secret to the U.S. tourism industry, which has been working for years to try to change the poor reputation the United States has among many foreign travelers -- a problem partly due to the experience of simply arriving at our shores, where many international visitors claim they are confronted with a surly bureaucracy and other excessive arrival hassles.
Once past the border, the U.S. is, as it always has been, an extremely pleasant visiting experience for foreign travelers.
The IOC's brusque elimination of Chicago from contention for the 2016 summer Olympics on the first round of balloting demonstrates the need to change impressions of what the experience of travel to the U.S. is like for international visitors, the head of the U.S. Travel Association said today.
Said Roger Dow, U.S. Travel's CEO: "It's clear the United States still has a lot of work to do to restore its place as a premier travel destination."
Dow will discuss what he calls the "unwelcoming message" the U.S. sends to international travelers, as well as the overall state of the U.S. travel industry next Wednesday in New Orleans at the TEAMS Conference & Expo. Presented by SportsTravel magazine, TEAMS is the world’s largest gathering of event organizers and travel planners from the sports-event industry.
"When IOC members are commenting to our president that foreign visitors find traveling to the United States a 'pretty harrowing experience,' we need to take seriously the challenge of reforming our entry process to ensure there is a welcome mat to our friends around the world, even as we ensure a secure system," Dow said.
The group is promoting legislation called the Travel Promotion Act, which was passed in the U.S. Senate last month, and which the House passed on Wednesday with strong bipartisan support. The bill, which needs to go back to the Senate on a procedural matter in the next few days, would create the first-ever U.S. promotion and communications program aimed at international travelers. Nearly every other industrialized nation spends heavily promoting itself with advertising and marketing aimed at foreign visitors.