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by Guardian.co.uk” width=”140″ height=”45″ />This article titled “Should travellers boycott the US over Trump’s policies?” was written by Kevin Rushby, for The Guardian on Wednesday 1st February 2017 16.19 UTC
During President Trump’s first tumultuous days in office, the web-based flight booking service Cheapflights has seen UK-based searches for US flights drop by 25%, with much of that decline coming after the latest travel ban furore. According to some reports, travellers are cancelling US trips.
It looks suspiciously like travellers are voting with their feet and turning their backs on the US. The potential loss in revenue for the country is significant: Euromonitor figures show British travellers numbered some 4.5 million in 2015 while other fast-growing markets, notably the Chinese (2.5m) and German (2.2m), also look vulnerable. And now there are calls from around the world for tourists to boycott the US. So, should we?
In the 1990s, I found myself sitting in the Yemeni capital San’a with a local friend who had just got his US visa. We were chewing qat, the mainstream Friday afternoon activity in Yemen (and one that is illegal in both the UK and US these days – another unnecessary cultural division). He was elated. He was certainly never coming back to San’a. His ostensible reason was a year of study, but what he wanted was to disappear into the American dream, reinvent himself and become an American.
There were many others like him at that time, often to be seen in a queue outside the US embassy. Some afternoons I used to sit outside a little shop run by a Somali youth and listen to his horror stories of the civil war going on across the Red Sea in his homeland. He also was working tirelessly to achieve his American dream. Why not Britain, or Germany, I asked. It might be easier. No. America offered personal reinvention and riches. America was the dream. Both those men eventually caught their planes, never returned and, I imagine, are probably now American patriots.
Donald Trump’s ban affects seven countries: Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Iran. I have not been to Libya, but in the six others I have seen how the American dream, plus the finer side of western culture, appealed to and consoled an educated and aspirational section of their societies. I often wonder about the shopkeeper in the Syrian city of Hama who could quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. People like him even discounted America’s blundering and catastrophic foreign interventions, somehow knowing that beneath it all, the dream of the New World remained true.
Now this ban sends a blunt message. No more dreams for you! You are not welcome.
It will be counter-productive. That is what sane voices in many parts of the world say. When the UN condemns it and the heads of major corporations such as Expedia are prepared to say: “Ours is a nation of immigrants. They are at our roots; they are our soul. The president jeopardized that with the stroke of a pen,” you know something is deeply wrong. The executive travel ban will not make America safer. But, of course, the objective is not to increase the store of world peace and harmony. The point is to divide, and build separation barriers, the kind of things that dictatorial types love, since walls increase fear and tyrants need fear like a plague needs a rat.
Travel, on the other hand, almost always decreases fear and ignorance. Decades of travel has demonstrated to me that people are generally equally hospitable and friendly wherever you go. Looking back at recent trips I approached with a degree of apprehension – Congo, Zimbabwe and Palestine included – I chuckle now. What I met with was welcoming curiosity. Hostility does exist, but rarely surfaces. Travel benefits everyone who likes the sharing of friendship, experience, ideas and food. A reduction in travel feeds the cabin fever fears of the isolated and uninformed. As Justin Francis, chief executive officer of Responsible Travel says, “One of the greatest risks facing our global community and the travel industry is that we become fearful of strangers. Trump seems to want to propagate this.” Those seven countries, six of which I personally know to be hospitable and friendly (two by having lived in them for several years), are being forced behind a wall of prejudice, ignorance and suspicion.
This is why I dislike travel boycotts or bans. Avoiding the US, or anywhere else, will not benefit anyone except those who thrive on xenophobia and hate. It will only help build barriers. The good people out there whose businesses need visitors to survive are the ones who will suffer. People who need the business of travellers from far away do not generally sympathise with hardline xenophobia. On top of that, the American dream is not to be casually signed away in a few misbegotten executive orders. In the words of Hameed Darweesh, an Iraqi who was detained at JFK airport on Saturday, but later emerged to a rousing welcome from cheering crowds, “This is the soul of America.”
One irony of the current crisis, deduced from Cheapflight’s figures, is that internet searches for flights to Mexico are up. The company’s managing director, Andrew Shelton, puts it bluntly: “Tourism chiefs in the US will need to act to prevent this trickle away from a perennial favourite becoming a flood.”
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