“It’s a weird time to be in the travel industry,” understates Matt Villano, a U.S.-based freelance travel writer and editor. Caught between a rock (slumping travel demand in the U.S. due to new, restrictive policy directives) and a hard place (threats of tighter visa rules for U.S. travelers overseas), he laments how “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.” (Read Matt’s expanded thoughts.)
At issue today in the U.S. are the now-infamous shifts in U.S. immigration policy spearheaded by the new American administration over the last two months. These include vigorous enforcement of laws governing some immigrants already in the U.S. and the pair of executive orders temporarily banning travel to the U.S. by the citizens of several Muslim-majority nations and all refugees – the first order blocked by a Seattle court last month and the second revised one just blocked yesterday by a federal judge in Hawaii.
These are important because, in the best of circumstances, “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 [travel bans] may be giving them pause,” remarks Erin Kirkland, publisher of AKontheGO. (Read Erin’s expanded thoughts.)
But troubles are brewing outside the U.S. too. Recently, the European Parliament used the rules of visa reciprocity to declare that U.S. passport holders might soon have to apply and pay for visas to Europe. This follows U.S. failure to extend visa-free travel to all E.U. countries – residents of 23 E.U. countries for whom it is permitted, as well as citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania, for whom it presently is not. The Parliament’s decision, though non-binding, sets June 15th as the deadline for the E.U. Commission to act if the U.S. doesn’t amend its policy. Of course, this is happening against a backdrop of rising anti-immigrant, right-wing populism and xenophobia in Europe.
And there’s more. For a couple of years, in an effort to counter child-trafficking in Africa, South Africa has required any adults in families visiting the country to prove parenthood or guardianship of accompanying children using original birth certificates. The rules are even more complex for single parents or adults traveling with children who are not biologically their own. Despite heavy criticism of the travel-dampening regulations, Botswana has followed suit.
So what is one – any traveler, but especially traveling families – to do in an environment where more and higher travel obstacles are shuttering borders that were once open, and where an overarching sense of negativity is making people think twice about leaving home?
FTA’s Unwavering Commitment
However this shakes out in the months and years ahead, the Family Travel Association stands firm in its commitment to inspiring families to travel. And we will support and speak out for all efforts to ensure that this goal is pursued, on behalf of both traveling families and our members.
Even in the face of obstacles, we believe that:
Traveling families deserve certainty – the certainty of knowing they can safely and reliably cross borders without fear of separation from one another, without dread of the conditions they will face while guests in another land, and without worry about their ability to return home.
Traveling families must be able to count on us – on the outspoken honesty of all members of the tourism industry, including our members, in pursuit of the magical experiences that travel makes possible, always under the most responsibly secure conditions possible.
Our members, while remaining true to themselves, must be united – as mirrors of the industry as a whole, they must show solidarity in creating a supportive and collaborative family travel environment where there is no place for fear of retribution or boycott by people of opposing views.
So, as Therese Iknoian of HI Travel Tales has said: “Be wise, be safe, but get out there.”
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