Donna Tuttle, undersecretary of commerce for travel and tourism, is a loyalist. She supports President Reagan's efforts to trim the budget even though he wants to abolish the agency she heads, the United States Travel and Tourism Administration, one of the tiniest in Washington with a budget of $12 million. Reagan appointed her, and she has testified on Capitol Hill, supporting his views.
Wouldn't that infuriate the travel industry? Hardly. It seems to adore the 38-year-old undersecretary, considered one of the four highest-ranking women appointees in the Reagan Administration. But that wasn't true a year and a half ago. It lobbied against her appointment. Wasn't she just another rich Californian? What did she know about travel? Besides, wasn't she the daughter-in-law of Kitchen Cabinet member Holmes Tuttle and, thus, a "favorite daughter"? The industry would prefer one of its own.
Scenario: Los Angeles hometown girl sets her strategy. She's a USC graduate in history. She's taught five years in Watts at Samuel Gompers Junior High School. She's placed an interview on the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the Junior League News, raising a few eyebrows. She's taken two Coro classes (through the Junior League), which prepare students for careers in public life. She's raised $5 million as head of finance for Mike Curb's (unsuccessful) primary campaign for governor, then raised funds for Carol Hallett's (also unsuccessful) general campaign for lieutenant governor. At this point, her husband, Bob Tuttle, is a presidential assistant and they have two daughters. (Now he is deputy assistant to the President and director of presidential personnel, away from the family business, which includes Ford dealerships in Irvine and Tucson.)
In retrospect, "I knew this job was coming up. I called the Office of Presidential Personnel and asked for an appointment."
She had already mustered her Coro tools to investigate and glean information. "I did a great deal of research. I went to the Library of Congress and said I wanted every hearing that the agency had been involved in. . . , because I wanted to know the issues. In reading the testimonies, I found out the issues, the problems, the past history. I found out what industry leaders felt." That was the summer of 1983.
Got the Appointment
She got the presidential nomination, then congressional approval. In December that year she got the appointment, a job now paying $73,600 a year.
"Then," she said, "I decided to go out and meet people in the industry and calm their fears. I started calling them out of my home. I must have taken 50 people to lunch. It cost me so much. I think I gained four pounds. But I was seeking their views. . . . I had done my homework, and it paid off. Setting a strategy--a lot came from Coro. How do you do something? What questions do you ask? I almost felt I could take on anything based on the Coro training I had."
Vivian Deuschl, Secretary Tuttle's special assistant and a powerhouse in the travel public relations world, said, "She has taken an agency, always a bit of a stepchild, neglected and overlooked, not always effective, and convinced industry leaders we can make our programs stretch further if we get private industry to work for and with us--the Pan Ams, the Marriotts and the Hiltons.
"Our agency's job," Deuschl said, "is to bring in foreign visitors into the United States, because that means revenues and taxes and big business. You cannot sit down with her in a room and walk out and say no when she asks for assistance, because she knows her stuff and she is very persuasive. She has a natural instinct for marketing. Beneath that exterior is a tough lady. She holds her own. She surprised everybody. Partly, though, the doubt arose because of her famous last name."
Joseph Hallissey has converted to being a Tuttle admirer. But as chairman of the American Society of Travel Agents, he is distressed because of the threats to the USTTA: "We don't want it cut. If anything, we want the budget increased, because every dollar we spend we get back $18." He's conducting a campaign to have 27 chapter presidents representing 13,000 firms write to Congress.
Restoring the Market
Another fan is Bill Edwards, vice chairman of Hilton Corp. and a member of a blue-ribbon committee of 25 top travel leaders hoping to restore the total international tourism market (foreigners coming to the United States) to 13%, what it was in the Bicentennial year of 1976 (it has dropped to 10.9%).
Edwards calls the secretary "a miracle" appointment. "She has been able to coordinate with the industry and get a feeling of cooperation . . . she has given to the industry an imagination and dedication that has been needed for some time, and the private sector is hungry for this."
If the undersecretary is now popular, she planned it that way. She works 10 1/2 hours daily.
When the tension gets too great, she puts on her jogging shorts.