Opening Remarks, World Travel and Tourism Conference
Delivered by Expedia North America President Paul Brown at the State Department, April 2006
On behalf of Dara Khosrowshahi, our CEO and the employees of Expedia, I would like to welcome you to the World Travel and Tourism Council's 6th Annual Global Summit. I would also like to extend a special welcome to Kathy Bushkin, the executive vice president of the U.N. Foundation. Kathy has worked with Expedia closely on the World Heritage Alliance and is here as my personal guest.
It is quite fitting that we are gathered today in the halls of the State Department. I agree with Roger Dow, the head of the Travel Industry Association when he says: "Travel is the ultimate public diplomacy, because it leaves real impressions on visitors about our culture, our attitudes and who we really are."
If travel is the ultimate public diplomacy, then collectively, we as industry leaders are the captains of a vast diplomatic corps. We work together to send people out into the world every day to meet other people, to see new things and to create memorable experiences. When people travel, something amazing tends to happen. People exchange small kindnesses. Conversations bloom. Stereotypes crack and perceptions start to change.
I think the infamous words of Aldous Huxley capture it almost perfectly: "To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries." What people are wrong about is the idea that we don't have much in common. We have everything in common – at least everything that matters, and the best way to discover this is to get out and meet people.
At Expedia, we are trying to do our part in getting people traveling and out to meet one another. Last year, across our global portfolio of brands -- which includes Hotels.com, Hotwire, eLong, Classic Vacations and of course Expedia.com -- we helped over 26 million people find a room for the night. We also sent over 22 million people packing on an airplane – with more than one-fifth of those people going outside their home country.
However, we at Expedia believe our role transcends the immediate tasks of filling airplanes and hotels. Rather, we have a mission: To inspire people to have meaningful travel experiences, and then to help them on their way.
One specific way we are working to inspire travelers is via our partnership with the United Nations Foundation on the World Heritage Alliance. World Heritage sites are places like Chichen Itza, Yosemite and Salamanca, jewels of natural and human creation that have been deemed by UNESCO's World Heritage program to belong to everyone.
The goal of the World Heritage Alliance is to promote sustainable tourism to World Heritage sites and the communities that care for them. At Expedia, our involvement goes well beyond donations. We want our work to be self-perpetuating, which is why we'll be sending our employees out to World Heritage sites each year to share our travel expertise with local tourism operators working to get their businesses off the ground.
The World Heritage Alliance is a great example of how a private industry and non-profit organizations can come together to advance tourism around the world.
Expedia is also continuing to support our travel partners during times of need by helping to rebuild international traveler confidence in destinations hit by natural disasters.
For example, the introduction of the World Heritage Alliance to Cancún and the Yucatán Peninsula coincided with the launch of a major marketing effort to revitalize travel to a region rebuilding from Hurricane Wilma.
The marketing program, designed to educate travelers that Cancún is once again ready for business, is an example of how partnerships between private industry, the tourism industry and public organizations can address important tourism issues.
I believe the travel industry is a web of interdependence. If we are to be successful in sending people out to experience the world, we must partner with others in the industry who are key to delivering those experiences. We must take care of our partners in their time of need. We must all do our part to help take special care of the destinations we cannot replace.
So much depends upon it.
Welcome, again, to Washington. I hope the next three days embody the theme of this year's summit: "Open Mind, Open World." I hope the meetings will be full of inquiry and honest debate. Finally, I hope we all enjoy the kinds of serendipitous exchanges that happen when people who have traveled long distances share a common experience.