April 9, 2016

Why Tourism and Politics Go Hand in Hand

by Malek Murison

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Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump walks the tarmac before boarding his campaign plane to depart from Laredo, Texas, Thursday, July 23, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

You may not think it, but tourism and politics have an incredibly close relationship. And we're not just talking about the trips to Panama that politicians take to hide their money. There's a connection that runs much deeper than that. First of all, politics both drives and is driven by opinion in society. Society governs what is acceptable, what is popular, and what should be avoided. Politics and those involved with the political process, are therefore in a position to influence and articulate the views of tourists all around the world.

Aside from influencing and projecting destination-related opinions, politicians make decisions every day which directly affect the tourism industry. From corporation taxes to referendums over currency and EU membership, politicians have the power to destabilise the travel industry from a regulatory perspective.

So let's start with the first way in which politics and tourism go hand in hand. Politicians have the power to mould public opinion on a given destination. This public opinion could be from the outside looking in, or it could be the opposite way around. Take the American elections - yes we're going there. Let's say that Donald Trump goes on to win the Presidency. Push aside just how awful that would be for a second, and instead focus on the impact it could have on tourism both to and from America.

First of all, Trump has ridden a wave of racism, sexism and right-wing fanaticism all the way to the front of the Republican nominee race. In recent weeks we have looked at both the rising trend of tourists from emerging economies and the affect of terrorism on travel. Trump and the political situation in America at the moment offer real-life examples of both of these. How, for example, will Mexicans or Muslims from emerging nations feel about the prospect of visiting an America under the presidency of Donald Trump? Understandably, they're quite likely to boycott the country altogether. There's also a high probability that many travellers from Europe and Asia will be put off visiting a country where toxic views about women, Muslims and Mexicans have propelled a man toward the position of most powerful man in the world.

America is an international beacon of liberty, culture and commendable ideals. As such, tourists from all over the world will continue to flock to New York, Las Vegas, Hollywood and the like. But Trump is showing how one man can damage the reputation of an entire country. Clearly, America is nowhere near as reliant on tourism as some other nations are, so the outside view is unlikely to hold much sway with the American public. Having said this, many must realise how the entire Trump campaign is reflecting on the US.

What's important to remember though, is that politicians can help to form opinions on other countries, not just fuel a perception of their own. Trump may be putting off Muslims from visiting the United States, but he's also vocally hyping the dangers of travel abroad and several other nations. He wants to build a wall along the Mexican border, presumably to keep the Mexicans out, but also, in his own words, because "They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some I assume are good people but I speak to border guards and they tell us what we are getting...". He's also said some nonsense about major capitals such as Paris and London, specifically that some areas "are so radicalised that police in London are afraid for their own their lives".  Come on Donald. Clearly politicians can damage the reputations of both their own nations and others thousands of miles away.

This espousing of hatred is where terrorism comes into play. Acts of terror are very real and several are among the most tragic world events in recent years. But for longer than terrorism has been a political buzzword, politicians have been using times of crisis to advance their own agendas. Media exaggeration and disinformation is rife with regards to certain popular destinations. Tourists, therefore, are left to try and pull together an informed opinion. Paris, one of the most visited cities in the world, was hit last year by a shocking terrorist attack. This summer France will host Euro 2016, and thousands of football tourists will pour into the country. Other popular holiday destinations such as Egypt and Turkey have also been hit by attacks. But where is safe, where should tourists avoid, and who can be trusted to provide genuine information in a timely manner? Terrorism, of course, is inherently political. It's a political tool, used not only by its evil perpetrators, but by those in the media and those who govern its victims. At the end of all the hype and political posturing, it's business, especially in the travel industry, that stand to lose out when people like Trump play the terror card.

For this reason, whenever politicians or those in the media wade in and declare one place safe or another dangerous, we should perhaps look for more genuine sources of information.

How Governments Directly Affect Tourism

Second, we can approach things from a regulatory perspective. In the UK this summer there is going to be a referendum on whether or not the country will stay in the European Union. Yes, this is a referendum in which the whole country, not just the politicians are voting, but let's not pretend for a second that public opinion will not, and has not already been, influenced by certain politicians and politically motivated media-hysteria. But we've gone over all that media stuff already. Let's focus on what could happen in the UK actually leaves the EU, and how this could affect the travel industry.

Of course, if the UK leaves the EU then it will bring to an end the freedom of movement for UK citizens around Europe and Europeans around the UK. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) recently released a report on the impact of the European referendum on the British travellers. First of all the experts rightly point out that ongoing uncertainty about the result is weakening the pound against other currencies, which could lead to rising costs for travel.

Key Travel Facts

  • 76% of UK holidays abroad are in the EU (29.3 million holidays).
  • 63% of visitors to the UK are from the EU (8.8 million holidays).
  • 68% business visits from the UK are to the EU (4.6 million).
  • 73% of business visitors to the UK are from the EU (6 million).
  • 44% travel and tourism spending in the UK is by EU nationals
  • 56% of UK travel and tourism spending goes to EU countries

It's pretty clear that this political decision will have a huge impact on the UK travel industry and UK travellers. EasyJet chief, Carolyn McCall, suggested a British exit from the EU could mean a return to the days when flying was “reserved for the elite”. Peter Long, former boss of the Tui travel group which owns Thomson and First Choice, said close cooperation with other EU states was essential to “protect the security of our holidaymakers”. McCall said that “The EU has brought huge benefits for UK travellers and businesses. Staying in the EU will ensure that they, and all of us, continue to receive them. How much you pay for your holiday really does depend on how much influence Britain has in Europe. As a result of Britain’s membership, the costs of flights have plummeted, while the range of destinations has soared. That’s why easyJet believes the benefits far outweigh the frustrations – and why the UK is better off as part of the EU,” she said.

So there you have it. Politics and tourism genuinely have a closer relationship than you might think.

Cut Through the Nonsense

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