America Is More Than A Destination

“The American West.  We all have images of the place: cowboys, vast plateaus, deserts in bloom.  But we would all be surprised by what else we could see there.  Before we sit back and enjoy Edgard Jespers’ documentary, let me encourage you to think about a trip to that mythical part of the world.”

Ambassador Gutman participated in an event organized by vtbKultuur in Knokke-Heist on January 26, 2012 and spoke about the American West and tourism in the United States.

The American West.  We all have images of the place: cowboys, vast plateaus, deserts in bloom.  But we would all be surprised by what else we could see there.  Before we sit back and enjoy Edgard Jespers’ documentary, let me encourage you to think about a trip to that mythical part of the world.

Tonight, I want to tell you about my own American West.  I think of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and then I move west to include Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, Washington and Oregon.

I leave out the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas – they are the middle.  I also leave out Texas – it is an entity on its own, well worth a trip, too.  I lived there.  If you do decide to go, let’s talk after the film.
I warn you: you will have as much difficulty planning your trip as I did in preparing this talk.  What to describe?  What to recommend?  I can assure you from the outset that you will need more than one trip to cover all of the possibilities in the great wide open Western United States.

I am pleased that my short introduction for travel planning will also serve as an introduction to Edgard Jespers’ film about the American West.  I look forward to enjoying his images.

Let me set the stage.  We are not only talking about a destination for a wonderful vacation.  For America is more than a destination.

It’s a land where everything is possible, so anything is possible.

Where imagination becomes reality, and nothing is  too new, too big or too far away to actually happen.

Whether you’re exploring a larger-than-life city, or wandering way off the beaten path.

It’s not just about seeing and doing – it’s about experiencing and feeling: the exciting contrasts… the diversity of people…

a collective culture that is only as robust as the  stories and personalities that contribute to it.

Why go to the U.S.?  You live in beautiful Knokke, in the heart of bustling romantic Europe, close to exotic Asia and the Middle East.  Why leave?  I will give you five reasons to start with.

1.  You don’t know the United States.  I know that many of you have spent significant amounts of time in the U.S.  But you still don’t know it.  We Americans are constantly discovering it.  Every trip to a different part of the country reveals new traditions, linguistic tones, cuisines and beautiful places to discover.

2.  You have to see it to believe the expanses and the natural beauty. Edgard’s film will give us a good hint of this.  But until you have gazed into the Grand Canyon, or — better yet — stood at the bottom of it, there is no way to imagine the scope.  Believe me, from my own vantage point of the cramped and crowded East Coast, I am in awe whenever I go out West.

3.  Americans are interested to know you.  It is not just an act: we really are that friendly.  Some of you might have caught sketches by Belgian comedians mocking a certain very enthusiastic American in Belgium.  But I’m not alone.  American openness and curiosity are genuine.  It is much deeper and more present than you would think if you just based yourself on a few extreme political views.  So when you travel around the U.S. and reply to the inevitable question that “I’m from Belgium,” people really will want to hear more.

4.  You have the full range of travel options available: from luxury hotels to rustic campgrounds.  No matter where you travel, whether to a crowded bustling city full of the latest cultural offerings, or to the remotest open space in nature, you will find the hotels and restaurants that suit your interests  . . . and your wallets.

5.  It’s big.  And with such a big country, you have the full range of choices of what to do on your vacations.

So with these five excellent reasons to make your next vacation an American vacation, let’s move on to some practical advice.

We can limit ourselves to the American West this evening, but reason #5 above is still valid: it’s big.  So you need to narrow your choices.  You could, for example, pick the type of trip you want to take.
National Parks? You have the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Death Valley, Bandelier, Glacier.

Skiing? Look in Colorado, Montana, Utah.

Cultural tourism? You will find that in California, Oregon, Utah, Nevada.

History?  Look at the frontier museums in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming.  Check out the Spanish Missions in California.  Study the Gold Rush up and down the West Coast.

Or you could pick three cities or places you must see, and then build around them.

Arizona and New Mexico offer the Grand Canyon, golfing in Scottsdale, echoes of the Old West in Tombstone.  Drive eight hours east, and you can go to the opera in Santa Fe, visit the famous Los Alamos National Laboratory, and eat posole in Albuquerque.

Further north, you could combine Southern California with Las Vegas, Nevada.

Skiing in Utah combined a visit through Arches National Park, and the some study about the Mormon religion in Salt Lake City?

Or go all the way up north and check out Montana.  This wild, sparsely populated state uses as its motto, “Get Lost.”  They don’t want you to leave.   At least not until you have explored their great wildernesses – one of which is the famous Yellowstone National Park.  Glacier National Park is not to be missed either.  And if you time it right, you could squeeze in some skiing here.

Wherever you go in the West, rent a car and drive for a bit.  That really illustrates the scale of this part of my country.  We are introducing modern high-speed rail.  We need to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels.  But when you get behind the wheel on a straight, flat deserted highway in Arizona, you will understand why most Americans can’t contemplate giving up the car entirely.

I am sure that many of you have been to one part of the U.S. before.

One of the things that might be preventing others from traveling is the idea that the security measures or border controls are too difficult.  There’s a good reason why it’s not easy for anybody to get a visa to come to America.  Obviously, our national security is a top priority.  We will always protect our borders and our shores and our tourist destinations from people who want to do us harm.  And unfortunately, such people exist, and that’s not going to change.

But we also want to get more international tourists to come to America.  The Visa Waiver programs means that Belgian citizens only need to register their basic data online once every two years.  After you are a registered traveler, you enjoy visa-free entry into the U.S. for two years before you have to re-register.  For those who want to travel even more frequently, and with even less frequent registration, President Obama last week announced the expansion of something called the Global Entry Program.  It’s a program that protects our borders and makes life easier for frequent travelers to and from the United States.  Now, getting into the program requires an extensive background check.  But once you’re in, once you’ve proven yourself to be a solid individual who is coming to the U.S. for business or recreation purposes, instead of going through long lines at immigration, we can scan your passport, your fingerprints, and you’re on your way.

So it’s a great example of how we’re using new technology to maintain national security and boost tourism at the same time.  And we’re now going to make it available to almost all international travelers coming to the United States.  If they’re willing to submit themselves to the background checks necessary, we can make sure that we’re facilitating their easy travel into the United States.
Wherever you go, and whenever you go, you won’t be alone in visiting the U.S.:

We expect 6-8 percent average annual growth in tourism to the U.S. over the next five years.  In 2011, we estimate that 64 million foreign travelers visited the United States.
Visitors from Europe are expected to increase by 4 percent in 2011, followed by additional slow growth over the next five years. By 2016 arrivals from Europe are projected to be 33 percent higher than the 2010 total. The highest growth in Europe will come from Sweden (+9%) and France (+10%).

I hope that my own quick recommendations and Edgard’s film have encouraged enough of you to buy your tickets and register your ESTAs that Belgium will surpass Sweden and France in increasing the number of tourists traveling to the U.S.

If I have peaked your interest, please do check out the website as a first stop in your trip planning.  And, as always, get in touch with me or with my staff if we can offer still more information.

See you in the Wild West!

Thanks so much and all the best.

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