Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

As we know only too well, a terrorist act has an immediate impact on inbound travel to the targeted country. The exact nature of that impact was recently quantified by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) in research commissioned by the World Travel and Tourism Council:

"You get a 40% drop [in tourism] in the year after a terrorist attack," the institute's founder, Steve Killelea, said. "Then it bounces back. Within five years, it is back to the same level of tourism as if [the destination] had not been targeted."

What might be an equally interesting study would be one that looked at the impact of terror on travel to countries that were not direct targets of the terrorists.

We saw that travel to all of Europe was lower following last November's attacks in Paris. But there are consequences resulting from terrorism that extend beyond even regions or continents. In fact, we're currently witnessing a more complex chain reaction to terrorism in general that has the potential to impact travel patterns for even longer than the IEP study predicts.

The combination of the European migration crises and terror, which are being linked, and traditional U.S. migration patterns and their possible links to terrorists and criminality, has triggered a Western societal and political reaction that goes well beyond an individual consumer's decision to redirect or postpone a vacation.

"A more nationalist or nativist tendency is in vogue," Jonathan Grella, the executive vice president of public affairs for U.S. Travel, said in sizing up the 2016 political season in America ["U.S. Travel Association keeps an eye on presidential race," March 22].

And in Europe, the situation seems even more pronounced. The impact of migration and fear of terror is threatening the very foundations of European unity.

While nationalism is an expression of loyalty and feelings of exceptionalism, nativism is the translation of those feelings into policy, specifically an anti-immigration policy. A rise in both can complicate the industry's recovery from terror, and in fact can be suppressive of travel even in the absence of terror.

Following 9/11, a "Fortress America" mentality prolonged the recovery of inbound travel to the United States. U.S. Travel refers to the period as "the lost years," which cost the country billions in service imports, hundreds of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in local tax revenue. It also resulted in a loss of market share that the country is still trying to recoup.

Earlier this month, U.S. Travel CEO Roger Dow interviewed me on stage at the association's board meeting in Washington and asked my opinion of the leading presidential candidates.

I said I worried that the millions of dollars and years of work that U.S. Travel and Brand USA have spent replacing Fortress America with the image of a friendly, welcoming country were placed at risk by candidates putting forth anti-immigration policies. Foreign media portrayals of Donald Trump's policies, in particular, are drawing statements of concern, bordering on alarm, among potential foreign visitors.

But it's not just Trump, and it's not just the United States. It isn't surprising that the initial reaction to problems related to terrorism and migration is to simply shut the door, build walls and raise the drawbridge. The link between terrorism and border crossings is not imaginary.

Looking at political polls, it's clear the natives are restless in many places around the globe. But there are sensible alternatives to nativism, and the industry must coalesce behind them.

No responsible voice in the industry would argue against policies and practices to keep the bad guys from crossing the borders. But we can advocate for security policies that make us safer while still encouraging and facilitating the vast majority of noncriminal travelers to travel.

The U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which came under scrutiny following the San Bernardino, Calif., attacks, is exactly the type of program that allows increasing numbers of people into a country while simultaneously strengthening security. It is based on sharing information about travelers among member countries. Visas, by design, stand at the crossroads of tourism and security.

The Visa Waiver Program is reciprocal, a circle of 38 countries increasing security. There are other regional visa waiver circles, like the Schengen Visa, which allows holders to move freely among 25 European countries.

The future of travel might well depend upon interoperability among a widening network of interlocking visa-waiver circles.

Following the attacks in Brussels, the Schengen Visa has come under increasing scrutiny as well. That in itself is not a bad thing for the industry, provided the scrutiny results in improving the visa rather than simply abandoning it.

Constant review and improvement are crucial to address and contain ever-evolving threats of terror and to direct, or redirect, resources to agencies that help in that effort.

A sensible visa policy is one of the most potent weapons that antiterrorism forces possess. With globalization, the demand for travel only rises, and in the long term, nativism cannot stem the desire to cross borders for commerce, cultural exchanges and leisure.

Where desire is ingrained in human nature, prohibition has a poor track record over time. Cooperation and thoughtful policy, on the other hand, bring progress.


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