Should America woo tourism? You betcha!

One of the principal charges levied against Alaska Governor Sarah Palin during the presidential campaign was that she was clueless. But, although it may pain some people to acknowledge it, Alaska's economy was just saved from losing at least $4 million thanks to her quick advocacy.

Japan Airlines shuttles about 20 aircraft to Alaska each winter, each packed with 350 tourists eager to glimpse the Northern Lights. But this season, budget cutbacks at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection division prompted the government to deny the airline its landing rights. There weren't enough agents to meet the planes.

Palin, though, petitioned the Department of Homeland Security to reverse the decision, pointing out the flight stoppage would cost Fairbanks' economy at least $4 million, and the rest of the state even more, in lost revenue from the Japanese sightseers. The DHS relented, and the flights are back on.

The whole affair points up a major blind spot in our government's economic stimulus goals. Tourism is a win-win industry for America. It pours money into our economy. It employs a sector of our society that is more vulnerable to economic shifts. It boosts our image abroad. It costs very little in resources, as well. After all, the Grand Canyon and the Big Easy are open every day, anyway.

Tourism delivers huge boxes of cash, practically gift-wrapped, and you'd think that America's leaders would be a little more wise to its benefits and advocate increasing it wherever possible.