I have brown skin. I am from Africa. Am I a jihadist? I have a 9-year-old son, and he has brown skin. Does he mean you harm? I have a mother from Sudan. Is she an Islamic radical? Of course not. But I ask in earnest as we continue to witness lives needlessly lost at home and in France, Turkey and elsewhere.
Yet we seem unable to get past another round of finger-pointing questions and accusations and pointless rhetoric from our world leaders.
I am a proud American of Indian ancestry, and I am not normally a fearful person. But the current level of restlessness and violence clearly affects our ability to make right decisions as a population. I travel all the time, and my ethnicity raises eyebrows in airports and in cities right here at home when I have done nothing to deserve this scrutiny. Yes, I have to admit to feeling vulnerable, and I think of the thousands more who are routinely subjected to the same profiling that I undergo. I have had to adjust to the judging looks I get as I am racially profiled in airport security for what seems like the thousandth time. So be it, however, more importantly, I can’t help but wonder what do these messages say to my children and to your children? How does this impact them? What if someone says something to my kids, who remain open and optimistic that they can change the world?
Then, I remember the late Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
In the travel industry, that underlying fear is that in the face of terrorism, travelers will stay home. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout all the geopolitical events of the last half century, the desire to see the world has remained constant. Our brightest days are still ahead of us, if we can simply get out of our own way.
Our industry has a powerful voice and we need to use it now. But we cannot lead from behind. It may be up to us to use our voice with our leaders who, in turn, need to forego retaliation and instead find a place at the table for everyone where they are respected. Show them a better reality exists before they become disenfranchised.
We must come together and realize that the only reachable solution to what we face is through education. It starts with asking the right questions and understanding that the game has changed dramatically.
Tourism done right has the power to change more lives more powerfully than any other single industry. One of the most potent tools we have is travel itself; travel on a human level that introduces us to one another, where children of different races and nationalities can meet and play together in safety. That is the true power of travel.
Study after study has shown that tourism is the single biggest resistance to those who mean us harm. It is the catalyst for change against poachers in Africa. The retraining and employment of former drug farmers in tourism with its greater benefits has helped push out the drug cartels that have since largely moved out of Colombia. Tourism has shifted the fortunes in Vietnam, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Laos and countless other countries where the tourism sector is growing to and over 10% of GDP.
It’s ok to feel vulnerable and even a little fearful at times like this. It’s ok to question how this can ever be stopped, but I firmly believe that these issues are solvable. This is not a political gamble, it is a global one, and without action, the price we pay will come due to our children and their children. It is vital to remember that while this our present reality, it doesn’t need to be our future.