On a day when a toddler was shot in the head by a stray bullet while playing outside at daycare in Utah – just another day in the life of a country where gun violence has claimed nearly 17,000 lives in the first half of 2023 alone – the US Travel Association gamely tackled the issue of gun violence in America at last week’s IPW travel trade event in San Antonio.
Responding to a question from Travel Industry Today at US Travel’s signature annual event, which attracted an audience of over 5,000 delegates from more than 60 countries, the association’s president and CEO Geoff Freeman admitted that the issue is “obviously gut-wrenching and heart-breaking for many Americans – one that many of us struggle with.”
He added, emphatically, “Public safety and travel go hand in hand (and) there is no way to increase travel if people have concerns about public safety. So, one way or another, if our goal is to strengthen travel, if our goal is to strengthen the economy, then one way or another we need to find solutions to public safety problems that give people confidence. Those are discussions we’re having; those are the discussion we will continue to have.”
And while Freeman’s answer understandably was short on details on how the problem might be solved – how can US Travel single-handedly declaw a beast that has already led to more 257 mass shootings this year, more than one every single day? – the question alone garnered murmurs of approval and response from many delegates at the show, suggesting the issue really is the “elephant in the room” for a lot of visitors.
(Ed. note: Statistics from GunViolenceArchive.org as of May 29).
One journalist from Britain described a travel site web site littered with comments about packing a flack jacket to visit the US, while others discussed at length their conflicted feelings and fears over travel there. A Romanian journalist simply approached and shook my hand.
Meanwhile, some Canadian journalists chose to steer clear of IPW altogether in protest of Texas gun laws. Another suggested racism, homophobia and women’s rights were other issues of consequence.
Still, full marks to Freeman who reiterated, “I can’t stress enough that travel and safety go hand in hand, and we need to find ways to give people the confidence to travel safely.”
Before the question, the newly appointed head of US Travel had been addressing other, less controversial, barriers to travel in the US, which is nevertheless flourishing, despite being at 70% of pre-pandemic levels in 2023. Among the obstacles he cited were lengthy visa wait times, entry delays at US customs points, airport congestion and “the airline experience,” and increasing global competitiveness for US Travel.
Freeman further commented that “it took far too long to get our borders re-opened, and it was only days ago that the vaccine requirement lifted for international travellers.
“These barriers,” he said, “send the wrong message to the world. We want travellers to choose the United States and we want them to know that we want their business…
“As a country, we need to stay competitive; to see around the corners and anticipate challenges that weren’t on our radar five or 10 years ago,” he continued. “We need to be constantly evolving to meet new demands and to ensure our entry process is not only secure, but simple and welcoming.”
First published at Travel Industry Today