Tourism pork

Tourism is promoted on so many fronts it's hard to keep track of them all. International hotel chains, airlines and rental car companies advertise in newspapers and magazines, on TV, in the mail, on the Internet and through business partners and customer incentive programs. Every mid-size to large city has a convention and tourism bureau that carries out its own marketing initiatives. State governments, not wanting to be left out of the perks that come with courting visitors, have tourism offices.

But having thousands of companies and tourism agencies buying ads and launching campaigns around the world apparently isn't enough to get out the word that good times can be had in the United States. The trade needs a little extra push from -- who else? -- the federal government.

Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., is the main sponsor of a bill that would authorize the State Department to hand out $50 million worth of grants over the next five years to help state and local tourism agencies promote the United States abroad. The grants would be distributed in amounts between $150,000 and $1 million to support campaigns aimed at changing international perceptions of America.

The Improving Public Diplomacy Through International Travel Act says international tourism has dropped 17 percent since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Rep. Porter argues that because the Canadian and Mexican federal governments spend $60 million and $149 million, respectively, on international tourism promotions, Congress needs to get in the game, too.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority already spends $16.2 million each year marketing the city abroad. And the Nevada Commission on Tourism has a $14 million annual budget, some of which supports offices in China, Japan, Korea, France and other countries.

Nevada in particular and the American tourism trade as a whole aren't lacking in exposure or resources. The idea that $10 million per year in grants spread between a few dozen politically connected tourism authorities will bring even a matching return to the U.S. economy is a reach.

This is pork. It will be dumped into the trough like so much homeland security or highway slop.

Congressional pork watchdogs should make sure this bill doesn't get out of the pig pen.