One does not have to think back very far to decide if we live in a troubled world. Early last month I started to write a Hospitality Upgrade Watercooler piece on the growing threats to travel and accommodation. Before I could get through a rough draft on the topic, Orlando burst to the forefront. First, Christina Grimme, a contestant on NBC’s talent show, The Voice, was gunned down at a fan meet-and-greet. Then, a scant 48 hours later, before I could get through my revised second draft, Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was attacked and 49 more victims were left dead.  Does all that seem like ancient history that you’re already tired of hearing? That was all the way back during the weekend of June 10–12.

And we don’t even have to remember that far back. I was traveling on Sunday, July 4, and public areas were on heightened alert because of the national holiday. I remember the sigh of relief that I gave getting out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport – the world’s busiest airport and a certainly a high-profile potential target for a terrorist in training. That’s a strange way to feel about your hometown airport, but even that isn’t the latest example. Since then we’ve witnessed outbreaks in Nice, France and Istanbul, Turkey. Is it craziness, hatred, terrorist-inspired guerrilla warfare, civil unrest, civil war or military coup? What difference does the technical classification make? What they all have in common is that (a) they’re all dangerous, (b) people are ending up dead at an alarming rate, and (c) out-of-town visitors and hotel guests are generally involved.

When I first started talking about travel safety, it was back before the turn of the century. At that time, a team of hotel system installers reported to me. There was an industry statistic making the rounds back then, something to the effect that travelers who spend more than forty nights per year sleeping in hotels were statistically going to be staying during a hotel fire. At that time, almost all of our team members met or surpassed their annual quota each calendar quarter. The statistics didn’t bode well for the home team, so I started researching and talking about hotel fire safety and evacuation procedures to prevent what seemed like the inevitable. By today’s standards, preparing for a hotel fire seems like a quaint, old-timey kind of paranoia – sort of like knowing what to do with a harpoon laceration while working on a whaling vessel.

Our industry bears the worst of our global nightmares.  Everywhere that fear/terror/hatred/craziness/war breaks out, the hospitality and tourism industry gets kicked in the gut. Those types of events reaffirm the fact that the world is less safe than ever, and that nowhere is really better off than anywhere else – especially where crazy loners are concerned. Nonetheless, the U.S. stands alone among the industrialized nations in its unmitigated support of an ancient and widely misinterpreted legal provision: We have the power to be crazy and militarily armed, hateful and militarily armed, guerrilla-inspired and militarily armed. Those of us who make our livings and sustain our families through travel and tourism should be concerned about this fact and its implications.  Perhaps it’s time for us, as a country and an industry, to reexamine this issue with a twenty-first century perspective. Both lives and livelihoods depend on it. 

Many years ago – again, before the turn of the century – there was a movement I associate with Kemmons Wilson, the original founder of Holiday Inns. He announced the HI initiative of “Peace Through Tourism,” the concept that travel would expose us to other races, nationalities, ethnicities and cultures, and therefore enlighten us and bring us closer to other members of human race. I think Kemmons was onto something more important to our industry than increased occupancy, and it’s beginning to face an existential threat.  Peace is not a bad thing in general, but it’s a mandatory prerequisite to the business of hospitality and tourism. And not the kind of peace we have once all the locals are dead and their buildings are decimated. Think about the growing list of places you’ll never voluntarily visit in your lifetime – some beautiful, culturally rich and historically significant destinations that won’t have any tourist trade to speak of during the your or your children’s lifetimes because peaceful existence is off the table. And when Paris makes that list, I officially give up. 

To paraphrase the British poets-laureate, The Beatles, “All we are saying, is give tourism a chance.”  And our industry should mobilize to do what we can to make the world safe for travel again.