America the violent // The shock heard round the world

  Andrea Stone


  USA Today


  Page 03A

  (Copyright 1993)


  For many foreign tourists, America the Violent is not a new image. But as the

  peak summer tourist season begins, the headlines do little to beckon foreign



  The latest came Sunday when a jury acquitted a Baton Rouge, La., man who shot

  and killed a Japanese exchange student whom he mistook for a burglar. The case

  has shocked and angered Japan, which sends the most tourists here after Canada

  and Mexico.


  Other foreigners are concerned. When Barbara Meller Jensen was beaten to death

  in Miami last month, she was the sixth foreign tourist and third German slain in

  Florida since December. A week later, a Scottish tourist was beaten to death in

  New Orleans.


  "Americans are more violent, more crazy. Everyone can get a gun here," says

  Frank Nowotny, a Hamburg, Germany, engineer visiting Los Angeles.

  "Sometimes when I am walking I just get a bad feeling."


  Japan was filled with bad feeling Monday. The Baton Rouge case has led TV

  newscasts for months as commentators railed about violence and widespread gun

  ownership in the USA. Japan bans handguns.


  America's "image is built up on very sketchy reports of incidents like (Baton

  Rouge), drugs, crime, the Los Angeles riots," says Akio Nomura, Washington

  bureau chief for Asahi Shimbun newspaper.


  According to Handgun Control, the USA had 12,090 handgun deaths in 1991.


  For Hyosun Kim, a Korean visiting Washington, D.C., Monday, such numbers

  are scary. Her son is a student in Boston.


  "I feel worried about my son. All the parents back in Korea worry" about their

  children studying in the USA.


  St. Louis college professor Diana Yiqing Sun, visiting Washington, D.C., with

  her Beijing in-laws Monday, said she was a crime victim last year when thieves

  broke into her car in Hawaii.


  Yet a record 44.5 million travelers visited the USA last year, a 75% rise from

  1985, partly due to a weaker dollar.


  According to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration, 75% of international

  travelers are repeat visitors. And few will be dissuaded by violence, say foreign

  travel agents meeting in New Orleans this week.


  "The French are not so afraid about their security," says Paris agent Christophe

  Lavail. "They're more frightened by natural catastrophes like volcanoes and



  In Japan, "We have a tendency to forget everything soon," says Motoro Miyao.

  "This is an isolated case."


  "We tell our clients the U.S. is not especially safe, especially at night," says

  Tokyo's Yoshisada Noma, "but that doesn't keep them from coming."


  Since it opened 15 months ago, Miami Beach Ocean Resort has been packed

  with travelers from Europe. Last month's killing hasn't hurt bookings.


  Tourists do flee certain cities. After last year's riots, international tourism in Los

  Angeles dropped 30%. The biggest drop was among Japanese.


  But foreigners aren't staying home, industry experts say.


  Sophisticated travelers know "anywhere there's poverty or a gap between the

  tourist and the economic level of the people around them there's crime," says

  Pennsylvania State University leisure studies professor Geoffrey Godbey.


  Besides, the USA is a big country. If not Los Angeles this year, there's always

  San Francisco or Las Vegas.


  In Florida, a Swedish women's group had scheduled its 1994 meeting in Miami

  but switched to Fort Lauderdale because of reports of crime.


  "Many thought people would stay away if we had it in Miami," said Helena

  Adolfsson, a Swede from Jupiter, Fla.


  The dollar is still weak enough to lure tourists who consider the USA safe.


  "Where I work, there is at least one bomb exploding every day," says Los

  Angeles visitor Tony Lowe, a London police officer. "It is just as dangerous at



  "America always represents the new, the shape of the future," says Nicholas

  Ludlow, editor of a British tourist guide.


  "America is performance art of the highest order." Contributing: Sharon

  Donovan, Cathy Lynn Grossman, Jonathan Lovitt , Desda Moss

  PHOTO,b/w,Bill Feig,AP; PHOTO,b/w,H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY