One of the best ways to get people spending money is to get them traveling. Checking into hotels, eating in restaurants, touring attractions -- it all injects money into communities and gets economic pipelines flowing. Fortunately, such pursuits also have positive effects on a society, too -- educating, inspiring, and relaxing them.

Recognizing the many benefits of travel, and noting with alarm that international tourists stopped coming after last fall's market crash, Argentina's president put a novel plan in place. Any Argentine who wants to vacation in their own country can now do it on their credit cards with no interest due for six months. They call it the Plan to Stimulate Internal Tourism.

By enlisting the national Secretary of Tourism and the major credit card companies (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Cabal, and the Bank of the Nation's Nativa card), the scheme waives interest on purchases made in several categories: hotels, restaurants, and major attractions. So far, more than 500 participant vendors have signed up for the program.

In the case of purchases made with Visa, vacationers are offered up to six payments without interest, or if they book a package with a hotel stay, they can call Visa within two days and obtain financing of vacations valued up to US$729. MasterCard's plan is designed for hotels in Buenos Aires in an effort to get people in the countryside traveling.
The recent chatter about how to best apply the stimulus package put a lot of emphasis on blue collar workers and infrastructure, and it's true that our country badly needs to pay some serious attention to the future of our shared spaces. But one aspect, in addition to the arts, that was pretty much ignored was tourism.

The American Congress has put much of its effort into working with the banks in easing the pressure of the sector that started this mess: mortgages and loans. But now that the recession snowball is roaring down the mountain and gathering fury, people are frightened and saving their money rather than spending it. For the most part, the best idea Congress can come up with to counter that fear is the same one they love when times are good: tax cuts.

I wish our leaders would take the lead of Argentina, of all places, and come up with a stimulus idea like this one. It wouldn't cost the government much, and national pride could use the boost that mass appreciation would bring. But I don't pretend it's likely. First, it would require a closer partnership with the credit card companies, which is easier to do in a country where government and banks are more closely linked. And if there's one thing that doesn't seem to be coming out of this stimulus plan, it's amnesty for the little guy.

But more than that, it would require a belief that tourism can, in its way, be beneficial to our economy. Right now, though, Congress is thinking more in terms of massaging labor-intensive industries, possibly because that world has more powerful and more organized lobbyists. We don't even have a Secretary of Tourism.

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