David Cogswell | April 16, 2015 4:41 PM ET
Politics, You Dirty Dog
You’ve no doubt heard about the elephant in the room.
Two things you never want to bring up in polite company, folks say, are politics and religion. Certainly a travel website wants to maintain political neutrality to whatever extent is possible. A travel media outlet is one of many realms in which you want to steer clear of the stain of partisan politics. Of course.
Who can deny that politics is a sleazy, depressing business? Even politicians admit it. It causes divisions that few businesses, other than political media businesses, would want to get entangled with. Why would any travel media outlet want to alienate approximately half its readers by taking sides on political issues?
But sometimes it seems that line of neutrality is getting harder and harder to walk.
Travel cannot extricate itself from anything. It’s in the middle of everything. The travel industry encompasses it all, cannot escape being affected by it all. That includes all manner of natural disasters and political violence, technological dysfunction, system collapse, crisis and crime. You name it.
Travel cannot insulate itself from any of those kinds of events. Fortunately, however, the travel industry has proven to be admirably resourceful and resilient in dealing with all those kinds of problems. And it is only because the travel industry is entangled with all the things of the world that it can provide us access to all the good things that it does.
But unfortunately, whether we care about politics or not, it cares about us, and like a stray, flea-infested dog it finds us regardless of our efforts to elude it.
For example, how can anyone participate in the excitement of the opening of travel to Cuba and remain politically neutral? This has been a virulent political controversy for half a century. There is no avoiding it.
To some people, opening trade with Cuba is an act of treachery and cowardice comparable with the appeasement of Hitler at Munich in 1938. Sorry, no way to avoid that political divide. You’re either on one side or another. And emotions run high.
If you are among those who believe Americans should have the freedom to travel to Cuba, it would appear from that you are in the majority of Americans, as witnessed by the mad rush to travel to Cuba that we are seeing now.
But in Congress, where it really counts, that side is still a minority so small it’s barely visible.
To those who want to visit Cuba, it seems obvious why. Why shouldn’t Americans have the freedom to travel wherever they want to? But to those on the other side, any trade that supports Cuba supports a tyrannical government and therefore works in opposition to the struggle for freedom.
Whose freedom anyway?
It will take an act of Congress to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and there is little political will on that side of the issue at the moment. A few members of Congress called for lifting the embargo back in January, but the issue doesn’t seem to have much political traction and there is little movement toward doing anything about it in the current political climate.
It is said that politics makes strange bedfellows. You may think you are a Republican or Democrat, but when political issues affect you personally, all that political ideology goes out the window.
Chris Rock offered some good sense: “On some issues I’m conservative. On some issues I’m liberal.” So aren’t we all?
There are many other political issues that affect the travel industry that are best left alone because they are still far too hot for inclusion in a publication such as this. But even if we don’t talk about them, they still affect us.
Some are less toxic and can be discussed without too much damage to personal and business relationships.
If you are in the travel industry, you probably like the National Parks and would like to see the protection of those lands continued. But there is another side that is trying to get into them for oil, lumber, minerals and other resources. They are just as strong in their convictions that that is the right thing to do. Where do you stand?
Howard Zinn named his autobiography “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.” In some cases that seems to be true.
Both tour operator trade associations, the National Tour Association and the U.S. Tour Operators Association, are very clear about their intentions to put more and more of their attention on political advocacy.
NTA set its political advocacy objectives at its last conference. The association is intent on working for the opening of Cuba, infrastructure modernization, a visa waiver program and increased support for the National Parks system.
The USTOA has also been moving in recent years toward putting more and more attention on advocacy efforts; not only in Washington, but with state and local governments. That was a significant factor in the association’s choosing Terry Dale as its new leader a few years ago. Opening Cuba has been high on the association’s list of priorities for many years, and continues to be.
USTOA wants to have a voice in the early stages of policy making, and not wait to respond until things become solidified and it’s virtually too late. The association raised its dues and is looking for other ways to finance its activism.
When South Africa was under the rule of the apartheid government it was no tourist destination. Many countries observed a boycott on any products from South Africa, including tourism, as a protest to the oppressive policies of the South African government at the time, including the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.
It is generally recognized that the economic pressure of that boycott helped to bring about the change in South Africa, the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, the establishment of elections and the rise of what we see now as Mandela’s Rainbow Nation. Now South Africa is one of the most popular tourism destinations in the world. Before the political changes, the tourism industry was more or less dormant.
Again, travel and politics. Not possible to keep them entirely separate.
The collapse of the travel industry in Egypt for three years after the Arab Spring was caused by politics. And the rate at which the industry returns and the economy improves for the Egyptians will be affected by what the pundits and talking heads say about politics.
It seems sad that the tourist vendors who are just trying to make a living should be prevented from doing so by political events so far beyond their power to influence.
But that’s the way it is. No getting around it. Politics, that dirty dog, will show up when you least expect it. And it doesn’t wait for an invitation.
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