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Mr. Brand USA

It is not easy to get on Roger Dow’s calendar. One week he is in San Diego for meetings, the next he is flying to London to catch the Olympics. Shortly after that he is off to China.

But this is nothing unusual for a man who is the face of the American travel industry. As president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Travel Association, Dow ’68 cannot be expected to stay put for long. In fact, by his own estimation, he is on the move 200 days or more out of the year, crusading for the United States as a top travel destination.

With his vigorous handshake, warm smile and statesman’s demeanor, Dow is “America’s fiercest advocate and most effective promoter,” says Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Dow, 65, is an aggressively energetic cheerleader for a business that was once seen to be, in his words, “frivolous” and “the Rodney Dangerfield of industries.”

No more. His impact as head of the U.S. Travel Association since 2005 has been “industry-changing,” say colleagues. A previous umbrella group for the travel industry had a reputation as “a sleepy, risk-averse trade organization with very little clout or respect in Washington, D.C.,” says Mike Gallagher, co-CEO and co-founder of CityPASS, a California-based company that offers discount passes to top attractions in 11 North American cities.

“Roger changed everything,” he continues. “Today, the U.S. Travel Association has grown into a powerful and much-respected trade and advocacy group.”

As a consequence, the travel industry now is recognized for the hundreds of billions of dollars it contributes each year to the U.S. economy.

Dow got his experience on the ground — his 34-year career with Marriott International began while he was attending Seton Hall, when he began working for the hotel group as a summer lifeguard. Working his way up the ladder, he eventually became senior vice president of global sales and launched the Marriott Rewards Program.

Dow’s accomplishments were recognized in June when he was honored at the Many Are One alumni gala as Seton Hall’s Most Distinguished Alumnus.

His gregarious nature and robust sense of humor are evident in the many YouTube clips of speeches and interviews he has given, and were also on display in a video produced for Many Are One. In it, Dow was lauded as “The Most Interesting Man in the World of Travel and Tourism — His frequent-flier miles have frequent-flier miles,” a riff on Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign.

But don’t think being a hail-fellow is all that’s required of the nation’s foremost travel promoter. Dow is a determined lobbyist, and he has enjoyed a seat at the table with President Barack Obama and members of his cabinet to discuss travel issues.

“Roger has elevated the conversation about the value our industry brings to the U.S. economy, and how we create jobs and careers,” says Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson. “The passion he brings to the political conversation in Washington obviously comes from his deep love of travel and how it can open doors to a world of opportunity for people who work in hotels, airlines and destinations.”

In fact, Dow’s initiatives have resulted in several significant travel measures. He and the U.S. Travel Association worked with the Transportation Security Administration to create a program enabling pre-approved and low-risk travelers to avoid long security lines at airports.

Other efforts have been aimed at streamlining the visa process to make it easier for foreign travelers to visit. And in 2010, in a particularly proud moment for Dow, he watched as President Obama signed the Travel Promotion Act, the first campaign to encourage international travel to the United States.

“By signing the Travel Promotion Act, President Obama acted to support the power of travel to serve as an economic stimulant, job generator and diplomatic tool,” Dow says.

His knack for salesmanship was evident at Seton Hall. Shortly after being elected senior-class president, “his first promotion was to talk the school into giving him $3,000 to purchase a car to use for a raffle,” recalls his wife, Linda. “They sold so many tickets that the class was able to pay for its prom, to pay for everything. And I think that’s what gave Roger his first taste for becoming a marketing type.”

Having already achieved many career goals and at a time of life when many people might look toward retirement, Dow is in the second year of a second five-year commitment to the association.

“I’m having a great time,” he says. “It’s very invigorating. Looking back, I’ve been so lucky to have touched thousands and thousands of people, and I think I’m pretty proud of that.”

—David Greenwald is a writer in Los Angeles.

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