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Destination America: The Priceless Value of Simple Hospitality for Stranded Tourists

There are literally thousands of stranded tourists in the United States today, and many likely to be here a bit longer as a new cloud of volcanic ash blows in from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano. And while many of us think that American diplomacy means embassies and politicians, our best ambassadors are turning out to be regular Americans taking in stranded tourists.

In Newark, N.J., a family of Brits returning from Las Vegas got stranded at Newark Liberty International Airport, where a TV report on their plight drew numerous inquiries. Jeanmarie Keenan, of Scotch Plains, N.J., drove there to find Mick Jordan, wife Jane and 13-year-old son Billy low on cash and eating only one meal a day

Keenan found her way to them and said, "Are you the Jordan family?" before taking them home with her.

Others offered to take in stranded travelers and offered money, while Sea World, Walt Disney World, and eventually Universal Orlando Resorts offered free admission to visitors who could show a canceled return flight ticket to Europe. In Killington, Vt., owner Chirag Patel reopened the Mountain Inn to a group of 60 English schoolboys left stranded (at a reduced fee). The nearby ski resort offered free lift tickets and ski rentals, and two local restaurants offered meals and a shuttle.

It's great to know that people like Keenan and others like her exist. People like her are doing work that boosts America's reputation for hospitality and those small acts of kindness will forever be fixed in people's minds. From the Associated Press:

"The American people have been fantastic to us," said Peter Dayson, who was with a 41-person group of British collegians stranded in Logan, Ohio. "We're very humbled by the way we've been looked after and treated."
However, the one place this doesn't seem to be happening is at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, where a group of 70 have been for the last three days. About 360 have been stranded at JFK, and at least one family is relying on $15 a day to feed their family, mostly from vending machines.
They have little interest in dinner.

"I don't feel that hungry," Saves said. "Since we can't eat like normal and have to save money, it's become the new normal." . . . "They're being well taken care of," said Port Authority Executive Director Christopher Ward. "The airports, we think, are handling things about as well as can be expected."

Really? Not offering food vouchers is treating stranded foreign tourists well? Unfortunately, those hundreds of visitors stranded at JFK won't have wonderful stories to tell about American hospitality, but instead tales of a hellish refugee camp which offered cots, but no showers or food. Doesn't the airport have a relationship with at least one hotel in the area they can send people?

By the way, European airlines and travelers have been much harder hit - U.S. losses were around $80 million, while European losses totaled $2 billion and $200 million each additional day. These are losses akin to 9/11 for Europe, and if our airports, hotels or regular citizens don't show compassion now, we will miss out on the best press and goodwill likely seen in decades.

Photo: Vidiot

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