America the violent // The shock heard round the world
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
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
"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