A friend of mine who travels extensively recently returned from a trip to France with his wife. His review of Paris is that everything is smoky, run-down, and falling apart. The citizens are rude and unhelpful, and the Eiffel tower looks just like the pictures. He was underwhelmed.

People who have both the time and the money to travel - call them the top 1% - are running out of great places to visit. Most visitors to Paris probably love it, but by definition, once you've visited your personal top ten destinations, everything else is either less interesting or seems like a repeat (Look honey, it's another beach!). I realize it's a high class problem, boo-hoo. But that's not the point that I'm staggering toward.

My point is that no matter how bad the economy gets for the bottom 80% of the world, there will likely be a surging population of rich people and retired people with resources who need more interesting places to visit. Things will only get worse when robots start doing all the hard jobs, say in twenty years, which I hope is your lifetime. The poor will get poorer while the rich will own stock in the robot factories and get richer.

My proposed solution is to start now and turn the United States into the world's most awesome vacation destination, not just for the rich, but for anyone who has the means to travel. Sure, the United States has some good vacation areas already. But it's all sort of random and spaced out. Las Vegas is far from Miami which is far from Washington D.C.

I propose building a vacation-oriented high speed train loop around the country that connects all of the existing tourist destinations and creates lots of new ones along the line. The sleeper cars would be large and handle huge amounts of luggage so a traveler can easily pack for skiing in Aspen plus swimming in San Diego on the same extended trip. Think of it as an ocean cruise experience but on land. The train itself would be packed with fun for the ride and the stops would be frequent and interesting. Visitors could book trips for any portion of the loop they wanted. And let's assume the trains have both deluxe cars for the rich and more ordinary accommodations for everyone else.

The great thing about vacation industries is that they employ lots of people, starting with the construction phase. The United States has an advantage over other countries if it can keep the air clean and the destinations safe and convenient. I'll emphasize convenience in this concept. It would be nice if a rich Swede, for example, could buy one ticket that included airfare, train travel, shipping excess luggage, and meals. Planning a trip to Europe requires a lot of research and work. Planning a trip to the United States should be reduced to which segment of "loop" you want to see and how much you want to spend on luxury.

Costa Rica is following a version of this plan, but without the train. Their national strategy is to become a vacation destination. If you want to be a bartender or a guide in that country, it requires serious college-like training, including languages, safety courses and more. And they're so serious about protecting the environment that they say no to oil drilling. Their strategy seems to be working. I think the United States could take it up a notch. All of those future rich Chinese entrepreneurs will need someplace to visit that isn't polluted. I also think that for the rich, the gating factor is planning, not money. If a vacation plan can be made easy, people will flock to it the way they flock to ocean cruises.

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Jul 23, 2012
I am again reminded of the old programming cartoon with the "and then a miracle happens!" section.

There's just one little teeny tiny fly in the ointment of your plan: mammon. Pinka pinka. D'argent. Das geld. Or, for those of you in Rio Linda, money.

For those of you who don't follow happenings in the Golden State, our retread governor, Jerry Brown, just signed a bill into law for the first phase (San Francisco to Anaheim) of the California High Speed Rail project, a bullet train that goes from strange places to even stranger places. The current estimate (pause for laughter here) of this first link is a whopping $68 billion, that this bankrupt state doesn't have but is going to spend anyway.

These kinds of estimates are always wildly off. For example, the initial cost estimates of the new eastern span of the Oakland-Bay Bridge (the parts were made in China, by the way) was $780 million. It was scheduled to be completed in 2007. It's now estimated to be opened on or around Labor Day, 2013, for the cheap cheap cost of only a mere $6.3 billion. For those of you without a calculator handy, that's eight times the original cost estimate. By that standard, the cost of the initial SF-Anaheim CHSR line will come in around $544 billion.

Anyone want to guess what California's total spending budget is for FY 2013? Da da da da da da daaaaa (Jeopardy theme): The answer IS. . . <drum roll>. . . $92 billion!!! So this great project is only going to cost the state, if the past is a guide, SIX YEARS' TOTAL BUDGET!!!! Oh, but wait! Some of the money is coming from the Feds! They're sending us $9 billion!!! We're saved, we're saved!

Until you realize that California is a loss-return state. For every dollar we pay in federal taxes, we only get back about 70 cents. So that $9 billion only cost us poor taxpayers $12.8 billion!!! What a deal!!! Wish we could get more!!!

Is there any wonder why we are broke with "leaders" like this? But I digress.

My point is that if it costs even half of that, say, $250 billion, for a 400-mile stretch, then what do you think it would cost for one that circles the US, with branches off to places like the Grand Canyon? Can you say "More money than God has?" I knew you could. Not only that - can you imagine the environmental impact reports? When it's discovered that the proposed route may adversely impact the Snarfy Hill pocket gopher, there goes THAT idea!

Of course, we could always do what we did when we built the first intercontinental railroad: bring in zillions of poor third-world laborers as indentured servants, and cut the costs by bunches. But of course, that would not fly.

Maybe if Scott contributed 100% of his income to the government to make his dream become a reality, he could close the budget gap and make his idea come to be. But failing that, it's just another idea that sounds great on paper, until you realize that there's a real-world cost to pay.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 23, 2012
Although I agree that the vacation industry is a fantastic industry, I think your plan is a little thin in these areas:

- You underestimate what it takes to build a new tourist attraction from scratch. A lot of current attractions are attractions because of human history, key historic events, or unique sightings. Whilst Las Vegas is an example of an attraction from scratch, replicating unique attractions from scratch is not easy.

- Europe imho (slightly biased as I am from there) is a lot more suitable for your plan, actually, you could argue it is already in place. Europe has the advantage of having an incredible amount of countries, cultures and sightings on a small area, with great infrastructure to travel it.

The US is a fantastic country, gorgeous, huge and also diverse, but it does not have that much diversity, history and culture all within such a small area. And again, attractions cannot just be created from scratch easily.

- You are mistaken in your pessimism on how interesting the world is. You have not seen the world or are saturated with it after visiting your ten top places. There's a show on dutch television, running for almost 10 seasons, where each week a new interesting location is presented. I can't ask you to watch it, but the conclusion is pretty clear: you can't admire the beauty of this world in 10 vacations, you can't even in a lifetime. Unless of course you do not find anything interesting, in which case a mall and a casino will do.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 23, 2012
It's brilliant, although most fellow commenters would rather carp than construct. Shall we count the ways? 1. Jobs program. 2. Every state buys in, since every state has vacation destinations. 3. You can carry far more luggage on a train than a plane. 4. The US is a safe & clean place. 5. Did you notice how Costa Rica doesn't want to allow the .001% of an oil spill polluting their valuable coastlines. An environmentalists wet dream. 6. One Americans get a taste of high speed train working for them, it could unleash high speed everywhere, taking trucks/cars, etc off the road, decreasing pollution, accidents.
Jul 23, 2012
No. Having a train ensures that destinations on the route become oversubscribed, hence too busy and will quickly fall into the same problems as Paris (albeit without the rude locals - which, coincidentally, most non-parisian French people agree with).

My proposal is this - robot driven taxis/minibuses/RVs linked into a vast social network driven database of potential vacation attractions, and linked into your/your families detailed list of preferences - if you like the mainstream, you'll visit the Eifel tower / ESB / Grand canyon, if you like picturesque villages / small towns, you'll find yourself visiting them. If you like kayaking, you'll find yourself visiting whitewater destinations within your abilities, etc. After your vacation, you'll let the service know which attractions best satisfied your needs, and it will adjust its rankings accordingly, or modify your preferences ready for your next vacation.
Jul 23, 2012
I sometimes day-dream of high-speed rails criss-crossing the country and think about ways to make it financially feasible. Because I think the idea of a bullet train is way cool and I'm a little embarassed that the United States - widely considered a leader in technology and innovation - is a very weak follower. Actually, "follower" might even be too strong a word at this point.

I probably won't be really happy until we have a coast-to-coast bullet train riding atop magnetic waves in a near-vacuum tube. I doubt anything like this will happen in my lifetime, but that's what I'd like to see.

An integrated tourism industry would add some incremental value to high-speed rail, but doesn't seem to be nearly enough to drive the project.
Jul 23, 2012
The fact that the U.S. is really, really big isn't too much of an issue when you consider that high-speed rail can be a really nice way to travel - especially for those who could afford to fly, but not first-class.

As for switching the entire economy towards tourism as the primary export - a good example to look to is Cuba. After the end of the Soviet Union, the Cuban economy nearly collapsed due to the end of Soviet subsidies and the continuation of U.S. embargos. Cuba successfully shifted a huge portion of the economy away from the export of things to Russia, and towards attracting tourists from Canada and Europe.

The U.S. is much bigger though - and it's got some serious competition. Asians seem to prefer Banff to Yellowstone, Canadians seem to prefer London to New York.

+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 23, 2012
How about if each state promoted themselves as an independent tourist destination. We can create variations such as Beach, adventure, nature, recreational, s-e-x, etc. etc. This solves the size problem as well as gives tourists a reason to make multiple visits.
Jul 23, 2012
Nice idea but wrong country. I can't help thinking that Europe would have an edge in something like this. They've already got a lot of high speed railroads, said railroads are more politically acceptable over there, and, as Kingdinosaur pointed out, America is pretty big for the train idea to work. They've also got lots of interesting places to visit already. And if it became a serious impediment to their tourism agency Im sure they could do something about the dirt and smoke and maybe even their attitude towards tourists (the parisians haven't done this yet probably because they figure they have enough tourists). In fact I wonder if they have an edge over us there too, or to put it another way how much more 'green' tech do they have implemented over there?
Jul 23, 2012
It would be nice - but considering many people don't want to support high speed rail for our own transportation needs, I doubt they'll be supportive of it for rich Swedes.

Personally, I've never been out west. And I researched options to take a train tour out west, and it was ridiculously expensive (can't recall the amount, but outside of my budget) and it took weeks.
Jul 23, 2012
Nothing wrong with the concept of a vacation country, but considering the US is 3000x4000 miles, even a high speed train would be a little slow. If these are rich people coming here, they could probably afford a supersonic jet that flies on a fixed route, like new york to miami in 3 hours.

Another thing, you wouldn't need a loop of the entire country. The eastern seaboard and the south would give you NYC, DC, Atlanta, all of florida, New Orleans, Dallas and Houstin, Vegas, and southern cal... maybe flex in San Deigo because its a great convention city. That's a fairly good chunk of our more touristy destinations and lots of places to golf or get on a cruise (don't forget about that part). If it gets popular and financially justifiable, you can add those other states. If not you aren't wasting money on places that are less likely to see tourists and it isn't like it'd be impossible to add in a switch over if nessasary to get to the off line destinations.
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