Even without entry test requirements, travelers are likely to pause before rushing back to a country where hate crimes and mass shootings are becoming far too commonplace. How will the US travel industry tackle one of the greatest potential threats to its recovery of international travel?
Lebawit Lily Girma
“Breaking news: USA hoping to increase tourism with gifts at border entries!” reads the headline on a sketch of a US border patrol officer handing over a jacket to a visitor sitting in his car. “Welcome to America. Here’s your complimentary bulletproof vest. ” Granted it’s a meme, on Twitter, and it’s no laughing matter. But the message evokes a stark reality: the country’s worsening wave of hate crimes combined with mass shootings – this year is on pace to beat last year’s record – may present a bigger impediment to America’s long-term international tourism rebound and competitiveness than any pesky Covid entry protocol. While it’s true that gun violence didn’t sway opinions to visit the US in the past, that consumer mindset and socio-political context were pre-pandemic. The frequency of mass shootings since then in major cities, plus the nature of the crimes leaning towards race, religion and sexual orientation, and an increase in legislation curbing the rights of LGBTQ and Black communities, all paint a troubling cultural shift in the US towards intolerance, fueled by divisive politics. “We understand that the events and headlines we have been seeing may cause concerns to those abroad – we as American citizens also share that concern,” said Chris Thompson, CEO of BrandUSA, in an emailed statement. Thompson added that one of America’s foundational strengths is its cultural diversity and that BrandUSA’s message to international visitors is that the overwhelming majority of those who live in the US are warm and welcoming people who embrace the diverse nature of our country. ” , we have been encouraged that, in recent days, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are nearing agreement on legislative solutions to better protect US communities, which have earned widespread support by Americans, “said Roger Dow, CEO of US Travel Association , in an emailed statement. Dow said that US Travel is anxious to see that action advance. Elliott Ferguson, CEO of Destination DC, told Skift that this was indeed an issue at the national level, and that the US travel industry has been discussing it, alongside other hurdles such as visas and testing requirements, and seeing traction in a positive direction with the current bipartisan conversation on gun laws. “I think one, this is a big country, and two, we need to address the issue – but it’s not an issue where I feel unsafe walking down the street or traveling in the US,” said Ferguson, adding that part of the context should involve the destination in question within the US “My office is in Chinatown – I don’t ever want to paint a picture that everything is rosy, but at the same time when you think about a town like in Washington, that has over 180 embassies, people from all over the world, you don’t have a sense of hate crimes tied to being in a city like Washington, which I think is also a part of