These are the responses by Family Travel Association members to an article about family travel in the face of a challenging travel climate. For the introductory post associated with the page, go HERE.
Matt Villano, Freelance Writer/Editor
(The following excerpts pull from this article. Read the full piece for Matt’s well-rounded thoughts.)
It’s a weird time to be in the travel industry.
The current climate would make any travel writer — really any American who travels for a living — paranoid.
For us family travel writers, however, the stakes are even higher; not only must we navigate the quagmires on our own, but we have to figure out a way to do it with our kids — all without disillusioning them completely and forever.
This challenge is not easy. First, simply explaining the current situation to an 8-year-old and 5-year-old is difficult, especially since the very last thing I want to do is undermine their faith and trust in our leaders at such an early age. What’s more, the visa situation requires even more preparation than ever before — a reality that is downright exhausting for a family of five.
With all this in mind, I’m not going to let the current climate deter me from my goals of exploring the world at large and teaching my daughters through travel. We haven’t been scared of traveling after acts of terrorism, and we won’t be scared of traveling now.
Here, then, is my step-by-step guide to resisting the threat of chaos in travel, and to doubling-down on travel as a form of exploration, education, and fun.
* Reverse the “Trump Slump.”
* Plan ahead for visas.
* Don’t be scared.
* Get real.
It’s more important now than ever before to round up the kids and get out there to see the world. At a time when our leaders are thinking narrowly, the right play is for the rest of us think more broadly and approach the world with the same degree of curiosity and respect we always have. I’m proud to embrace this philosophy at this moment in history. I’m also proud to pass it along to my girls.
Erin Kirkland, Publisher, AKontheGO
I believe that family travel in general is often based upon two things: perception of a place and a sense of comfort. Perception is valuable in this case because, despite the travel ban’s specific-in-theory nature focusing on certain countries, the perception to other inbound international travelers could be that the U.S. is not a welcoming place, regardless of one’s country of origin.
Comfort is also important to families traveling together, going beyond the physical sense. Comfort is knowing that your children will be safe, secure, and happy in a particular environment. Isn’t that why many travel for vacation in the first place? To secure comfortable surroundings and activities to mitigate the effects of everyday life? Even if those surroundings are unfamiliar, there is no mistaking the sense of feeling welcome.
For family travel to be transformational, the message must be warm, open, and hospitable. Parents do not, and should not, expect anything else. In this case, the ban may be giving them pause.
Leigh Barnes, North American Director, Intrepid Travel
It’s too early to see and analyze the effects on the North American market, in spite of the travel ban and confusion provoked, we remain passionate in citing the educational benefits of travel. There’s no doubt that travel changes the way people see the world, and stressing the positive aspects of it is a priority for Intrepid.
In terms of family travel, we’ve experienced growth of 30% year on year. In 2017 we’ve found that families have been prioritising the archetypal bucket list destinations: the Galapagos, India, Egypt, and Peru. And it’s not just Peru that’s been a hit with families – the South American continent is our most popular destination of 2017, no doubt thanks to Machu Picchu’s allure.
Fred Dixon, CEO, NYC & Company
NYC & Company recognizes the importance of family travel to New York City. We plan to continue to drive awareness of NYC as an accessible family-friendly destination through our Official Family Ambassador program, currently represented by Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Since the family ambassador program launched in 2009, family travel to New York City has increased by more than 30 percent. We will continue our work to appeal to this important segment in the months and years ahead.
Fred is also quoted at greater length in this article from The New York Times.
Jennifer Spatz, CEO & Founder, Global Family Travels
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
– Chief Seattle
Given that we are a Seattle-area based company, Global Family Travels wanted to share this quote to start off our thoughts about the recent political climate around travel restrictions that our country has sadly initiated.
Now more than ever before, we in the travel industry need to encourage people to travel the world and remove this barrier of fear that the current politicals are instilling. After all, when we venture outside our world — and outside of yourself — with an open mind and heart, we open ourselves to the timeless truths that bind us together as fellow human beings, no matter how different we may look, dress or speak. Doing this with your family on an immersive service learning and cultural exploration vacation offers the opportunity to strengthen your own family bonds and experience the joy and fulfillment of meeting new people, discovering other cultures while reaffirming what matters most: our shared values and connectedness.
Obviously, we still want to encourage people to travel safely and be vigilant. For example, we should look at defining new ways that we can support an efficient process to address impending visa and other potentially new documentation requirements for our clients. Partnering with passport/visa expositors to help educate clients for example.
We should continue to find ways to promote sustainable travel, preserving the local cultures and environments which we visit, and create awareness of global challenges. We should also directly support the underserved in the destinations we visit, as every non-profit will also be negatively impacted by this new political atmosphere. Inbound and outbound travel can help drive cross-cultural understanding and support initiatives to bridge cultural divides, fostering global citizenry and a more universally connected world.
Deborah Dickson-Smith, Publisher, Travel Writer and Blogger
The recent policy shifts about immigration will not stop me from travelling with my family, but it has certainly made me think twice about travelling to the U.S. When Australia’s favourite children’s author, Mem Fox, is held at customs for nearly two hours and treated like a criminal by overzealous security guards, it does not warm you to Americans. In fact, I have heard many people talk of boycotting the country. I think with travel to the States, with some people it’s more political — “Do we really want to visit while Trump’s in power?” — and with others it’s simple fear of some non-existent visa issue resulting in travellers being refused entry after flying all that way.
Rob Rankin, Managing Director, Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland
Being based in Ireland, I don’t think any new immigration policies in the US really impact on us too much as a business, thankfully. My heart does go out to US-based incoming operators, because it certainly sounds like there may be a drop in incoming business to the USA.
Kenneth Shapiro, Editor-in-Chief, Family Getaways
I’m very concerned about recent policy changes and what affect it could have on all travel, including family travel. While a lot of concern right now is focused on inbound travel, which is sure to take a hit, travel agents are also worried about outbound international travel.
For one thing, these new policies create a climate where U.S. travelers might feel unwelcome at times overseas. Generally, I think people are good at separating a government’s policies from its citizens, but intense feelings on all sides do occasionally boil over, and some families might prefer to stay home instead of risk being in that situation.
Next, if suppliers begin to perceive that fewer people will travel internationally, it’s entirely logical that they would pull back and eliminate some tours, flights, cruises, etc. If the industry reacts in this way, then there will simply be fewer options for travelers – and travel agents. And, in some cases, it could take years to see these travel options return to previous levels.
Therese Iknoian, Co-founder, HI Travel Tales
I suspect that political leanings will influence whether a person chooses to travel with his or her family or not. More liberal family values may stand behind the theory that “they aren’t going to scare me” and “my kids and myself value the learnings of travel too much to forgo it.” More conservative and other xenophobic sorts may in fact decide to stay home for fears of violence or perhaps even retribution against Americans.
Personally, we are not curtailing travel and nobody we know is either. That said, I have been a part of discussions where somebody is choosing a destination that perhaps feels safer or I have heard about persons who are even avoiding certain areas of the world. That is a matter of personal assessment, of course. There may be some areas that I myself would not choose to travel at this point. And flaunting Americanism or acting as if America is “better” than other places would be perhaps asking for trouble. Vice versa, we know many Europeans who aren’t thinking twice about coming here, while others have NEVER wanted to come here due to some of the political leanings — and that has not changed for them.
Do we take precautions to be a little more “neutral” when traveling? Perhaps. Being a traveler means in some ways being more of a blank canvas ready for the colors to be splashed on. But as we explained in our story from more than a year ago, “How to Blend In,” this has always been the advice. And we added a few more safety-oriented tips in an advice piece in January (“Stay safe when traveling in trying political times, but please travel”) based on what we were hearing. Bottom line is, though, one has really always needed to “blend in” and take precautions when traveling no matter who is in power or what is going on in the world.
Is family travel being impacted? Hard to asses…. Yet. I for one hope not because of the message it would send to children of all ages. Be wise, be safe, but get out there.
Paige Conner Totaro, Founder, All Over the Map
In my business, I work primarily with families who are vacationing outside of the United States, and I am hearing from some of them that they are afraid. They are not afraid of terrorism abroad; they are afraid that they will face difficulty when they return to the U.S. because of the color of their skin.
These are American citizens who worry that they or their children will be detained upon reentry and separated from their family. Thus far it has not deterred my clients from traveling, but if these sorts of stories continue to emerge, it is quite possible that people will decide not to travel, or to only travel domestically.
Of course, there are plenty of wonderful destinations within the U.S., but I hate to think that people will forego an opportunity to learn about other cultures overseas, especially if the reason is fear of how they will be treated by their own government on return.
Dr. Jessie Voigts, Founder, Wandering Educators
In light of recent shifts on travel and immigration policies, I see family travel being impacted in many ways. Families are now concerned about a variety of things regarding international travel, including visas (these policies seem to be fluid and countries are watching US regulations), currency rates, and attitudes toward US citizens.
Of these, I feel that attitudes are the most challenging for parents to face. Travel is the greatest educational tool possible, and any parent wants their kids to learn more about people and cultures, expand their worldview, gain new language and travel skills, and revel in exploring the world.
But honestly? I am hearing from travelers that it might be easier to stay home. It’s difficult to explain these new policies that have been put in place to ourselves, let alone our kids and people abroad. I always tell our daughter that someone she meets abroad is a new friend, whether for a moment’s interaction or for longer. Who wants to start off a friendship discussing xenophobia, hate, racism, and intolerance?
Ashish Sanghrajka, Founder, Big Five Tours & Expeditions
First, visas cannot be overly complicated to enter this country, as one thing politicians always overlook is first response. If the US makes the visa process for tourists more challenging, it will result in visas for US tourists going oversees to be handled in the same manner.
This is not to say we compromise on national security; rather that we have to think the solutions down fully. Getting a visa is not a big deal, until you start multiplying that process, more than the cost, by the number of people in the family.
Visa-free travel or visa-on-arrival style travel is now place in about 90% of our travel portfolio and we have data to back up the main fact that, in almost every case, travelers will choose an easier or exempt visa destination over a destination with a drawn-out visa process. What revenue the country loses in visa fees, it would make up generously in increased tourism arrivals.
Eric Stoen, Founder, Travel Babbo
Our travel plans generally aren’t affected by visas. We try to return to France, Italy and Greece annually, and we’ll continue to do that even if Europe asks us to acquire visas first. And when my kids choose destinations for their annual one-on-one trips with me, they’ve never been restricted to visa-free countries. Of course electronic visas with a $20 fee are far easier to arrange than visas that require complicated applications, cashier’s checks and FedEx. Last year, traveling around the world with my 10-year-old, we were an hour away from heading to the airport in Bali to fly to Australia and I realized that we needed visas. Five minutes later I had our electronic visas completed.
Having said that, we’ll sometimes prioritize our travel based on visas. Every year when we sketch out where we want to go, Brazil is on the list, but every year it gets pushed down our list by countries that are easier to enter. For spring break next month our finalists were Brazil and Chile. I chose Chile because I didn’t want to have to deal with the paperwork and fees associated with five Brazilian visas. We’ll get to Brazil someday, but it will happen a lot sooner if they implement an electronic visa program or eliminate visas altogether.
Pamela Lassers, Director of Media Relations, Abercrombie & Kent USA
We notify families in advance of the documentation required by South Africa for families travelling with children and it has not been an issue. In fact our business in South Africa is up significantly this year. Multi-generational families are attracted by the excellent gameviewing in malaria-free reserves like Shamwari outside Cape Town.
Steve Born, Vice President of Marketing, Globus family of brands
Families deserve a vacation, and in light of recent news about access to other countries, perhaps the international family vacation is more in need than ever before.
The reality is, at this time, international travel from the U.S. is robust. Consumer confidence, great airfares and the enduring interest of Americans to experience other cultures points to great conditions for travel. We, at the Globus family of brands, are on pace for double-digit increases this year over last.
And the good news is that the likelihood of a visa requirement being implemented is remote, as the hospitality category places an extremely high value on visitors from the U.S. We haven’t seen a slowdown in demand, in fact our positive momentum has been steady since November of last year.
Eileen Gunn, Editor & Founder, FamiliesGo!
In the short term, I think the uncertainty is the worst thing. Once people know what the rules are and how they will be enforced, you can work with that, but right now we don’t know. You read about non-white Canadian citizens whose lineage isn’t tied to the countries on Trump’s list being turned back at the border without a reason given. Or you hear of kids being held for questioning at airports. It all seems very arbitrary and risky and it leaves people feeling powerless. So they cancel their travel plans to avoid that.
We know people, mostly non-white, who have green cards but are rethinking travel outside the U.S. — to their home countries or elsewhere — because they worry about being stopped unfairly coming back in. Being caught up in that kind of situation is brutal for anyone, but so much worse when kids are involved and you need to explain why you can’t leave the airport and go home, or can’t cross the border for your holiday. Or what if you are mixed-race family or one spouse is an immigrant and dad has to explain why immigration is detaining mom? Who wants to risk that? Easier to just travel closer to home.
The visa issue won’t affect experienced travelers or people with ample travel budgets too much. For the former, it’s a little more hassle and planning, and the latter can pay for expediting services. But for that family taking their first trip to Europe, it sounds complicated and hard and might dissuade them. Also, a visa into the US is about $165. Presuming the EU charges a similar amount, that’s more than $650 for a family of four. That might dissuade travelers on a tight budget. Or it will come away from something else. Maybe you’ll shorten your trip or get an apartment instead of hotel so you can cook. Maybe you’ll decide to skip Euro-Disney or not spring for that guided tour.
I think another issue is, if you are traveling to someplace like Mexico, wondering if people might be unhappy with the US and so treat you rudely or create hassles for you.
We all know the many ways travel broadens you, counters stereotypes and generates empathy for more kinds of people. First-time travelers — that high schooler doing a summer program, college student doing a semester abroad or family doing their first vacation outside the US —have the most to gain. And I think those are the people most likely to change their minds and stay home, which is a real loss.
Julia Slatcher, Owner, Inspire World Travel
While security is understandably top of mind for many travelers these days, the first and updated travel bans are not based on any solid data that indicate that they will increase the safety of Americans. The bans and statements also confuse the issues of travel visas, immigration and refugees – all quite different.
In addition, rhetoric about ISIS and Muslims has had a chilling effect on American Muslims. I had begun planning a spring break trip for a client and her family (a couple with two daughters) — all American-born Muslims and U.S. citizens since birth – but, after the first “travel ban” executive order, she reluctantly canceled. They are too afraid they will have problems getting back into the country — a fear that is sadly not unfounded.
On the flip side, some European friends have told us they refuse to travel to the U.S. during this administration. Of course, these are just personal anecdotes, but they are indeed affecting my business.
If other governments do indeed retaliate by imposing visas, fees and/or restrictions on American travelers, it will absolutely have a chilling effect – at a time when being exposed to other cultures is more important than ever. Isolation leads to less understanding… and I’d argue more instability and less security.
Claudia Laroye, Founder, The Travelling Mom
Putting up barriers, whether physical or bureaucratic in nature, to legitimate leisure and business travel fosters a climate of fear and apprehension. Irregardless of actual bans, citizens of non-ban countries are actively being denied entry to other countries, for race, ethnic or religious reasons. Hearing “You’ve been trumped” as an excuse to deny entry is not an encouraging tourism slogan.
The fostering of fear and the unknown application of the law in the travel sphere reduces travel to those destinations. We’ve seen this in countries around the world experiencing upheaval. This is now happening to the United States. Travelers are voting with their wallets and in some cases, their conscience, to book travel to other countries and destinations that are perceived to be safer and more welcoming.
Tom Peyton, Vice President, Family Dive Adventures
Our biggest issue with international travel is fear. We are seeing a few of our clients from other countries that would need to pass through the US to get to the Pacific or Indonesia that are not booking with us right now. They are nervous about the political climate. They are nervous they will not get back home.
Creating more fear and instability only creates new road blocks for family travel. The reality, not “alternative facts,” is it far more dangerous to drive in your local city than traveling aboard. But with the heated, fear-based and confusing political dialog happening in the US it is not making it easier to sell family adventure trips.
You would think a famous and success businessman, our president, would understand this simple fact. Fear is bad for the travel business.
Doug Cole, Owner, Marble Mountain Guest Ranch
(The following inspired this article. Read the full piece for Doug’s well-rounded thoughts.)
Safety during travel, and managing risk exposure in travel destinations, takes priority to me over all other considerations, including political opinions. Naiveté regarding travel safety might be a catalyst to some additional travel, but frankly I don’t think the savvy traveler can ignore the realities of travel risks in today’s world.
While I have yet to see my first visitor to our California dude ranch originating from one of the seven temporarily banned countries, we do rely heavily on travel from within the U.S., from the U.K. and other sections of Europe. I suspect that while we might loose some politically motivated travelers to our USA destination from outside the USA, we may well gain more travel from vacationers that choose to stay local due to concerns over risks during travel abroad.
I suppose that there will be those that refuse to visit an American dude ranch because it means travel to an “intolerant” nation in their view. I also suppose that there will be those that prefer to travel to a destination that they deem is more secure for themselves and their families due to national diligence applied to travel safety. From my perspective, I am fearful of traveling to countries and locations that have NOT protected their borders, cultures, and infrastructure to the degree that we are currently attempting here in the U.S.
Eileen Ogintz, Columnist, Taking the Kids
(The following is inspired by this article. Read the full piece for Eileen’s well-rounded thoughts.)
Why would any foreign tourist want to risk being put the ringer like these people were, especially ordinary tourists just coming here for vacations or family visits?
What’s going on now is not trivial, as foreign tourists are detained and scared off from even thinking about visiting what has been one of the most welcoming nations in the world.
Yes, we need homeland security. But we do not need the current kind of overreaction that risks harming an important sector of our economy.
It’s sad that not only foreigners are nervous about coming here, but when Americans go abroad, we feel as if we need to apologize for our president’s unwelcoming stance. Travel is so important for kids, especially in our global world, to appreciate and learn from each other’s differences and how in many respects we are so similar. If foreigners opt to go elsewhere, it is a lost opportunity for all concerned — and potentially billions of dollars for the American travel industry and all those who depend on jobs in the travel sector.
In the past few years abroad, I haven’t met a single American family who regretted taking the opportunity to show their kids a bit of the world and felt they were all richer for it. I hope American families see that it is more important than ever for families to be global ambassadors about all that is good and right in our country and our culture.
Kirsten Maxwell, Founder, Kids Are a Trip
I think the biggest impact of recent policy shifts will be on foreign travelers coming to the United States. This could be damaging to the U.S. economy, but on the flip side, it could make domestic travel more attractive than ever.
As a family that travels internationally on a regular basis, we will continue to do so. We want to change the negative stereotypes that have been created in other parts of the world. We are not “ugly Americans,” but Americans who value other human beings and want to learn about their cultures and values.
The government has never affected our family travel plans in the past, and we do not intend to let them do so now. If the law calls for visa-free travel, we will support it. The world is evolving, and travel must change with it. How this will all play out is yet to be seen.
Sally Black, Mom Executive Officer, VacationKids
The reported “Trump Slump” hasn’t caused any decrease in sales for us, just a shift in business. While bookings have been strong and steady, we’ve had no cancellations of overseas trips currently on the books; however we’ve recently received more requests for US destinations. We’ve seen this from What are traveling families doing in today’s new travel climate of travel obstacles and overarching negativity that is making people stay home?clients who are US citizens, as well as green card holding ex-pats. Whether the shift in our own business is an anomaly or a reflection of a trend remains to be seen. Perhaps some loss of inbound US tourism dollars due to Trump’s ripple effect will be partially offset by Americans enjoying a US vacation this year?
Being an eternal (perhaps naïve) optimist, I had a small glimmer of hope that our new president would “get” inbound tourism dollars, considering he himself is so heavily invested in the hospitality industry. Obviously this does not seem to be the case.
But the travel industry is very resilient. It has survived many a recent catastrophe… Zika, terrorism, swine flu etc. Parents work too dang hard 351 days per year to give up their two-week respite from their jobs. I think we will see a shift in destinations not a stop to vacations.
Amie O’Shaughnessy, Founder, Ciao Bambino!
What we’re seeing in our travel agency is that families are traveling like mad … but some are redirecting. We’re seeing very strong demand for new markets like Iceland and Cuba, and perennial European favorites that have largely stayed out of the news like Italy and Spain. And likewise, some softening of demand for France, which is usually one of our top destinations. That said, there are families who have an attitude that they won’t let politics or world events change their plans and remain undeterred, perhaps even emboldened (armed with travel insurance). Right after the initial ban was announced, we had some shifting of plans, but we haven’t seen evidence of that since then.
The news about a shift in visa requirements for Americans to Europe has certainly created uncertainty and questions, but we’re not seeing cancellations at this point. I think travelers reading the fine print understand that this conversation is not a new one and the economic impact on Europe would be significant enough that any change in policy here would not be so onerous that people would be inspired to cancel entirely.
My personal opinion is that the uncertain and divisive political climate now is unsettling but nothing soothes the soul like a true escape from day-to-day immersion and obsession with the news. I just got back from the Arctic Circle in Norway and we had no choice but to disconnect from the discourse and this provided a healthy reminder that the world is a big place and while we can’t forget about the issues or their importance, we need to find a way to keep the constant negativity at bay for the sake of our children.