The travel industry has been paying close attention to President Trump’s 90-day limitation of new visas for citizens of six nations: Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan. These countries happen to have Muslim majorities and are either state sponsors of terror, or have had significant ISIS-related activity. Most meetings industry bodies reacted to the revised order in a manner similar to U.S. Travel Association President Roger Dow, who said, “The American travel community supports efforts to bolster national security, and the Trump administration deserves some credit for the substantially more cautious and deliberate introduction of the revised executive order.”
Criticism of the measure was mainly focused on the damage to the industry that the original order may have caused, and Dow questioned “whether the revised order did enough to mollify the prospective traveler from Canada, Europe, or elsewhere around the world who may have been put off by the initial travel ban.” He added that the order could have more clearly delineated between visitors who are potential security risks and legitimate business and leisure visitors, but that seems a bit much to ask. After all, people who are security risks would likely infiltrate as refugees, students, tourists or business travelers. Thus, vetting of all travelers, as inconvenient as it may be to the industry, would be needed.
ASAE’s statement on the matter brought the specter of religious discrimination into the mix. “Not only does [the travel ban] concern us in terms of the impact on international attendance at association meetings and conferences, it raises questions about whether we are making policy as a nation based on religion,” said ASAE President and CEO John Graham, CAE. He further stated that “ASAE urges the administration to clarify the intent of this order and confirm our nation’s commitment to equality and humanitarianism.”
While I commend Graham’s concern for “equality and humanitarianism,” I am disappointed that he did not extend this concern to travel bans apart from the current executive order. One example is the travel ban on citizens of Israel. At IBTM World, over cocktails, a hotelier from the Middle East unabashedly told me Israelis were not welcome in her country unless they hold a second passport. How many Israeli academics or association professionals cannot attend international congresses or events in numerous countries throughout the globe by virtue of their country of birth, and where is ASAE’s reported concern and critique in that arena?
Despite any negative repercussions, temporarily limiting travel from certain areas is arguably a necessary security measure. Let us not lose sight that there is a security issue, and that the source of the threat is partly outside our borders. True, some of the attackers in recent terror incidents and live shooting incidents may have been home grown, an example being the January shooting at Fort Lauderdale airport. But over the past few years, multiple attacks in France and Belgium, as well as Southern California, have been perpetrated by foreigners from or with ties to foreign terror groups rooted in areas noted in the travel restriction. In a sign of the times, one of the most attended sessions at PCMA Convening Leaders this year was on preparing for a “live shooter” situation.
If the meetings industry has a challenge in preventing the world traveler from being “put off” by the executive order, that can be achieved by promoting the United States with facts. We have some of the world’s best cities and facilities, and our country’s freedoms make it a beacon of opportunity. Statements from industry officials or the trade media filled with conjecture about the travel ban, or questioning “our nation’s commitment to equality and humanitarianism,” do nothing to inform the global traveler about our country’s virtues as a destination.