In the early part of the 1980’s I was appointed by the Governor of Rhode Island as the chairman of this US States Tourism Advisory Commission. The commission was comprised of senior leaders in tourism from across the state and our mission was to improve the delivery of tourism impacts for the state and also achieve greater efficiency.
Through staff research, we soon discovered that every small town and village in the state had a tourism office and often the staff were related to or a close friend of a local Mayor. It appeared to us to be a jobs programme.
When we conducted further research, we also found that the economic, social and cultural impacts of these office were minimal and often nebulous.
During our consultations with hundreds of local citizens, our commission travelled to each region of the state and conducted public hearings. We soon learned that even though the local tourism offices were appreciated by local citizens, in fact, they did very little to increase tourism in each season.
Therefore, the commission made a decision to recommend the closure of several offices and the consolidation of these offices into a regional and more efficient network. This announcement caused such turmoil that several local tourism directors complained loudly and when one suddenly died, it was inferred by some that our commission’s recommendations had so upset her that they had contributed to and accelerated her early demise.
As we prepared to submit our report to the Governor for his further action, I was invited to appear on a local radio talk show. One of the tourism directors joined me to argue his point of view. Within a few minutes he said “You are Un – American!” I remember even now how the hair on the back of my neck immediately stood straight up as a result of this attack upon my patriotism and challenging my fidelity to my home country. However, I managed to take a deep breath and reminded the tourism director that although our views differed, I respected his commitment to increasing tourism in the state and further believed that there is no litmus test regarding being an American as each of us is guaranteed by our US Constitution the right of freedom of speech.
A few months after we submitted our extensive report, a US based academic published a book chronicling the best practices in tourism in the United States. The work of our commission was cited as one of these best practices.
Therefore, as we witness on a daily basis the vitriol through social media about what it means to be an American I would argue that first and foremost, one does not become Un – American through a difference of opinion based upon well researched facts. However, all Americans or patriots in any country may choose instead to rise to the highest ideals and values of their civic life through respectful discourse and thoughtful discussion focused upon the common goal of creating a better civic socity for all citizens, now and throughout the future.