When Travel Becomes A Weapon

The weaponization of travel.” That is how a study released in early July described the widening use of travel bans and boycotts. Probably like many, I have found myself at various times applauding and condemning their use, depending on the particular aim and justification. Yet in the frenzy of activity, I largely overlooked an unsettling trend towards their proliferation.

It’s a trend we all need to be aware of, especially if like me, you believe in the power of travel to promote exchange and understanding. The danger lies with bans and boycotts further isolating people and ideas.

As travelers, we vote with our wallets when we choose our destinations. With bans and boycotts, our choices are constrained. With a boycott, I am refusing to do business with someone or to travel somewhere, while a ban prevents me access to a place I may want to go.

The current Federal government 90-day ban prevents entry into the United States for some visitors from six Muslim countries. It was announced as a national security measure, but has received wide attention because of its possible discriminatory impact based on religious belief, and is due to be reviewed by the Supreme Court in the fall.

But even with a Supreme Court decision, there is a larger story.

It is highlighted in the recent study commissioned by Destinations International (formerly DMAI) that describes five cases since 2010 (three in 2016 alone) where travel bans and boycotts were organized to express opposition to state legislation on a range of issues, including immigration, marriage equality and gender identity. The report details results and reasons for each.

The word association for “boycotts” from participants in the Weaponization of Travel study. Source: Destinations International

More recently, the State of California announced its own ban against use of state funds for official travel to now eight other states that passed legislation viewed as discriminatory based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Travel bans and boycotts may be a sign of our times, but their proliferation should cause us to pause and think. Until this point, their cost has been defined by cancelled itineraries of travelers, lost wages for local workers, and lost revenues for businesses and cities. But these days, simply tallying them together ignores an increasingly important dimension.

In these contentious times, the growth of travel bans and boycotts is a casting wider, darker shadow.

Is their rise helping to fuel our domestic climate of divisiveness and dislike?

Are they being used as a substitute for dialogue?

How are we supposed to work towards a more peaceful, tolerant world, when we can’t connect with those who are different?

Using travel as a weapon? I thought travel was about bringing people together.


This post first appeared in my HuffPost blog on 21 July 2017.

By |2018-04-05T21:22:56+00:00July 20th, 2017|Our Community|Comments Off on When Travel Becomes A Weapon

About the Author:

Since 2000, Russ has been the CEO of Hostelling International USA (HI USA), a nonprofit, member organization founded on an enduring belief in the power of travel to foster a deeper understanding of people, places, and the world around. The HI USA hostel network is consistently recognized as one of the best in world by the International Youth Hostel Federation and by independent rating agencies. Russ has been a featured speaker at national and international conferences on topics ranging from experiential education to nonprofit management. Russ serves on Boards of the Alliance for International Exchange, United Nations World Tourism Organization, US Travel Association, and the World Youth, Student and Educational (WYSE) Travel Confederation.