Discover America Partnership Lands Ridge

By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, December 21, 2006

If a travel industry group wanted a big name with big credentials to speak up for opening U.S. borders to let in more business and recreational travelers, it couldn't have done much better than former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge.

And that's just who the Discover America Partnership got.

"It's a huge coup for us. There's no more credible source," Geoff Freeman, executive director of the Discover America Partnership, said yesterday.

The group wants Ridge to evaluate the entry process -- difficulties real and perceived with getting visas and going through airports -- and to propose strategies for a better balance between security and open doors. Freeman declined to say how much the group is paying Ridge.

The coalition and its multimillion-dollar advocacy campaign were launched in September to help boost the number of visitors by 10 million a year. Since Sept. 11, 2001, there has been a 17 percent decline in overseas travel to the United States, the group said.

Ridge said that he doesn't do lobbying, but that he will help devise "a tactical plan of which lobbying may be a part."

"Our borders are where our security and future prosperity intersect. The borders are getting more secure, but the doors are not opened enough," Ridge said. "We're not viewed as easily accessible because we're not."

Some of the coalition members are Steve Porter, president of the InterContinental Hotels Group, the Americas; Joseph A. McInerney, chief executive of the American Hotel and Lodging Association; Roger Dow, chief executive of the Travel Industry Association; and Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

McCurdy Is Making a Move

Dave McCurdy, a Democratic survivor of the Republican K Street Project, is moving from the Electronic Industries Alliance to become president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

McCurdy, a former Democratic House member from Oklahoma, will take his post Feb. 12, succeeding Frederick L. Webber, who is retiring.

In 1998, Republicans tried to pressure the EIA into hiring a fellow Republican instead. Some GOP lawmakers told their staffs not to meet with EIA officials, and they delayed passage of legislation that the EIA supported.

Republicans were unsuccessful then -- McCurdy became chief executive of the EIA -- and the House ethics committee privately chastised then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) for threatening retaliation.

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