Did Chicago lose the chance to host the 2016 Olympics because of airport security issues?
Among the toughest questions posed to the Chicago bid team this week in Copenhagen was one that raised the issue of what kind of welcome foreigners would get from airport officials when they arrived in this country to attend the Games. Syed Shahid Ali, an I.O.C. member from Pakistan, in the question-and-answer session following Chicago's official presentation, pointed out that entering the United States can be "a rather harrowing experience."
President Obama, who was there as part of the 10-person team, assured Mr. Ali that all visitors would be made to feel welcome. "One of the legacies I want to see is a reminder that America at its best is open to the world," he said."
But Mr. Obama's assurances may have not been enough to assuage critics like Mr. Ali. A few hours later the Games went to Rio de Janeiro.
The exchange underscores what tourism officials here have been saying for years about the sometimes rigorous entry process for foreigners, which they see as a deterrent to tourism. Once the news came out that Chicago lost its Olympic bid, the U.S. Travel Association didn't miss an opportunity to point that out, sending out a critical press release within hours.
"It's clear the United States still has a lot of work to do to restore its place as a premier travel destination," Roger Dow, U.S. Travel's president, said in the statement released today. "When IOC members are commenting to our President that foreign visitors find traveling to the United States a 'pretty harrowing experience,' we need to take seriously the challenge of reforming our entry process to ensure there is a welcome mat to our friends around the world, even as we ensure a secure system."