It was big news when
the Discover America Partnership released data a year ago showing
that international visitors feared U.S. immigration officers more
than they feared terrorists.
Now it turns out
there's a parallel sentiment within America -- even within the
travel industry -- that sees American policy as ineffective in the
war on terror and, in an even blunter analysis, as a threat to
national security in its own right.
attending Travel Weekly's Las Vegas Leadership Forum in July were
offered an opportunity to voice their opinions on certain U.S.
policies in an ongoing research project called the Terrorism
The Index first
appeared in Foreign Policy magazine in June 2006 as a
"comprehensive, nonpartisan effort to mine the highest echelons of
the nation's foreign-policy establishment for its assessment of how
the United States is fighting the global war on terror."
In that initial
iteration, participants included officials who had served as
secretary of state or national security adviser, senior White House
aides and top U.S. intelligence officers, academics and
The author, Marvin
Cetron, is a futurist and president of Forecasting International.
He has consulted for presidents Kennedy through Clinton as well as
400 of the Fortune 500 companies. Last December, he wrote a
two-part cover story for Travel Weekly focusing on five predictions
for the future of travel.
Since 2006, the
Terrorism Index has been updated every six months, and last summer,
Cetron offered to include a segment of Travel Weekly's readership
in his poll. In particular, he was interested in participants from
the hospitality sector, the part of the industry he believes is
most vulnerable to terrorism.
So, in addition to
the Army War College and the World Future Society (an association
of professional forecasters), attendees of the Travel Weekly Las
Vegas Leadership Forum, attended primarily by hoteliers, filled out
Though the questions
are, by definition, future-focused and without present day
right-or-wrong answers, respondents seemed to have a premonition
that Pakistan was the least stable country in the nuclear club: It
was cited most often as being "likely to transfer nuclear
technology to terrorists in the next three to five years," ahead of
Iran and Russia.
That was Question 10.
The biggest surprise -- for me, at any rate -- were the responses
to Question 11: Which country has the most dangerous government in
the world today?
The No. 1 and No. 2
rankings were somewhat predictable: Iran and North Korea. But in
third place -- ahead of Sudan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China --
was the U.S. And, strikingly, respondents from the Army War College
ranked it second.
The distrust of the
U.S. government's ability to fight terror was made amply
of all respondents felt the world was becoming more dangerous for
disagreed with the statement, "The U.S. is winning the war on
and the Taliban were all seen as stronger than they had been a year
But my biggest
surprise came in responses to the question "In your view, what is
the single greatest threat to the U.S. national security?" Even
with all of the indicators above, I did not expect that more people
would choose "Bush policies" than any other option, including
al-Qaida, terrorism, the Iraq war and nuclear weapons. (As a group,
the travel industry believed this more strongly than the other
participants, though they were least likely, by far, to
characterize the U.S. as a "dangerous" government.)
incidentally, leaned a bit more to the right than to the left;
about half described themselves as politically moderate, with the
remainder twice as likely to describe themselves as conservative
(33%) than as liberal (16%).
The reason Cetron was
keen to involve Travel Weekly in his most recent survey, and the
reason Travel Weekly was keen to participate, is that we share a
concern that the hospitality industry is particularly vulnerable to
attack. Cetron's belief that hotels are at risk as a "soft target"
has great credence since such attacks have already occurred in
Malaysia, Egypt and Jordan.
travelers from other countries may have concerns about U.S.
policies, the lure of the weak dollar has been a strong motivator
for them to run the gantlet of Homeland Security personnel to enter
Fortress America this past summer.
Yet we who live in
the U.S. find little consolation in our beaten-down currency, have
little confidence in our current foreign policy and worry that,
just around the corner, there are significant consequences for our
industry and country if we simply stay the course.