Travel professionals at the New York Times Travel Show had somewhat mixed feelings to the US State Department’s new travel advisory and alert system (travel.state.gov) because of the newness and how consumers are processing the information. Some said they appreciated the greater specificity, but others felt that destinations were unfairly tarnished. But they observed with some amazement at the resilience of American travelers to return to destinations that have had some crisis like a natural disaster or terror attack.
“When we had those [terror attacks] in London last summer, within 48 hours we were back to normal booking patterns,” said Guy Young, global brand engagement officer of The Travel Corporation.
Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck Tours, said the tour operator used to plan for up to 12 months for tourism to recover to an area that suffered from some kind of travel disruptor. Now, it only takes three months for a rebound.
“We see, whether it’s been a natural disaster or a terrorism event or just overall economic disruption that all of our guests are rebounding much, much more quickly than they did in the past,” Tombaugh said.
“For better or for worse, there is a resilience about the American traveler that we haven’t seen in a long time,” she said. “I think we’re sort of redefining what uncertainty means, and I’m not quite sure if that word even resonates for people even more. I think they’re saying, ‘The world is crazy. Life is short. Let’s go out and explore.'”
But resilience might actually reflect the high degree of confidence that travelers have in travel professionals – the tour operators, cruiselines and travel agents who are there to advise them more accurately when they book, provide more security when they travel and handle emergencies should they arise.
Citing robust advance bookings, the panel – reflecting a cross-section of travel entities – were all highly optimistic of strong sales for 2018, coming off a record 2017 for just about every destination, bolstered by a strong global economy. However, the United States, was one of only two destinations showing a downturn, with international arrivals down about 4 to 6 percent –representing a $4.5 billion hit to the economy and loss of some 46,000 jobs. They said inbound travel was hurt by Trump’s rhetoric, the travel ban, concern about gun violence, and a general discomfort to visit the US. The United States, once the most desirable destination for international travels, slipped to #3, and dropped the 8 in terms of international arrivals.
On the other hand, outbound travel by Americans is strong.
Ninan Chacko, CEO of Travel Leaders Group; Alejandro Zozaya, CEO of Apple Leisure Group; Andy Stuart, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line; Guy Young, global brand engagement officer of the Travel Corporation; and Tombaugh of Tauck reported the strongest advanced bookings in years – with travelers booking as much as a year ahead.
“2018 looks like a fantastic year, the best on record if bookings continue at the same pace,” said Guy Young, global brand engagement officer of the Travel Corporation, which has 30 brands in its portfolio, ranging from youth travel to luxury travel, and travel products all over the world. “Every destination is up except for the United States. In a given year, some brands are up, others are down, but in 2018, everything is up. It will be a phenomenal year.”
Get a Passport: Hilton Passport Project
It turns out that having a passport is good for you.
Hilton Hotels & Resorts undertook a study and found that 53% of Americans with passports are content with their lives, compared to 34% of those who do not possess a passport.
Hilton, in collaboration with the US State Department, has launched the Hilton Passport Project, an initiative aimed at inspiring more Americans to apply for passports.
“For nearly 100 years, we’ve witnessed the profound impact travel has on the lives of our guests,” said Stuart Foster, vice president, global brand marketing. “With more than 570 hotels in the heart of the world’s most incredible destinations, Hilton Hotels & Resorts makes travel within reach. The Hilton Passport Project is our way of helping more Americans unlock the power of travel and realize the benefits a passport can bring them – whether that’s becoming more content with their lives or enjoying new experiences and opportunities.”
Every few weeks, a Hilton location in the United States hosts a Passport Concierge booth, where guests and the general public can have their passport pictures taken for free and apply for or renew a passport. Between one and three employees from the State Department will be on hand to answer passport-related questions and help fill out applications. For a list of coming locations, visit facebook.com/Hilton.
First-time applicants pay $110 and a $25 application fee. Passport renewals cost $110 and expedited passports are an additional $60. If you’re renewing your passport, you can do it by mail, but if you’re getting a new passport or if yours has been lost or stolen, you must apply in person.
There are more than 8,000 passport application locations around the country. Around 60 percent are post offices while the rest are courthouses and libraries. Visit the State Department’s Where to Apply link for more details. In addition, there are 27 passport agencies, where travelers can apply for rush passports – for example, if you are traveling within two weeks’ time.
On January 10, 2018, the Department of State launched changes in how information is shared with U.S. travelers, replacing Travel Alerts and Warnings for countries that warrant them to a new system where every country has a Travel Advisory with a level ranging from 1 to 4. The advisories are hosted in a redesigned hub for traveler information, travel.state.gov.
“These changes are intended to provide U.S. citizens with clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information worldwide,” the State Department stated in a press advisory.
Level 1 – Exercise Normal Precautions: This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risk. There is some risk in any international travel. Conditions in other countries may differ from those in the United States and may change at any time.
Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution: Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
Level 3 – Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
Level 4 – Do Not Travel: This is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks. During an emergency, the U.S. government may have very limited ability to provide assistance. The Department of State advises that U.S. citizens not travel to the country or leave as soon as it is safe to do so. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
The Travel Advisories for each country replace previous Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts. While the State Department will issue an overall Travel Advisory level for every country, levels of advice may vary for specific locations or areas within a country. For instance, U.S. citizens may be advised to “Exercise Increased Caution” (Level 2) in a country, but to “Reconsider Travel” (Level 3) to a particular area within the country. Detailed Travel Advisories also will provide clear reasons for the level assigned, using established risk indicators, and offer specific advice to U.S. citizens who choose to travel there:
C – Crime: Widespread violent or organized crime is present in areas of the country. Local law enforcement may have limited ability to respond to serious crimes.
T – Terrorism: Terrorist attacks have occurred and/or specific threats against civilians, groups, or other targets may exist.
U – Civil Unrest: Political, economic, religious, and/or ethnic instability exists and may cause violence, major disruptions, and/or safety risks.
H – Health: Health risks, including current disease outbreaks or a crisis that disrupts a country’s medical infrastructure, are present. The issuance of a Centers for Disease Control Travel Notice may be a factor.
N – Natural Disaster: A natural disaster, or its aftermath, poses danger.
E – Time-limited Event: A short-term event, such as an election, sporting event, or other incident that may pose a safety risk.
O – Other: There are potential risks not covered by previous risk indicators. Read the country’s Travel Advisory for details.
The State Department stated it will review and update each Travel Advisory as needed, based on changes to security and safety information. Additionally, U.S. embassies and consulates will now issue Alerts to replace the current Emergency Messages and Security Messages. Alerts will inform U.S. citizens of specific safety and security concerns in a country, such as demonstrations, crime trends, and weather events.
Revamped Website, Travel.State.Gov
The Department’s newly-redesigned hub for traveler information,travel.state.gov, will host all Travel Advisories, recent Alerts issued for each country, and an interactive map in mobile friendly formats.
Country pages on the site will continue to include all travel information currently available, including details about entry/exit requirements, local laws and customs, health conditions, transportation, and other relevant topics.
To receive security and other important updates while traveling, U.S. citizens can enroll their travel plans in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (step.state.gov), and follow on Twitter (@travelgov) and Facebook (facebook.com/travelgov).
We posed additional questions to a spokesperson for the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs:
How was the new Travel Advisory system created? How has it been received by travel professionals and travelers?
“Over the past year, we received feedback about our consular safety and security messaging from State Department colleagues throughout the world and from our many outreach activities to the public and other government stakeholders. This feedback helped us tailor our new Travel Advisories to the information travelers need most.
“The revisions to consular safety and security messaging improve the Department’s ability to inform the public in an efficient and comprehensive manner. Information is easier to find, understand, and use. Travel Advisories ensure U.S. citizens receive important advice for every country, applying a consistent worldwide standard.”
“Our goal was to improve our communications with U.S. citizen travelers to provide clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information worldwide. So far, the feedback was been positive.
“One thing I’d point out: it’s important to read the full Travel Advisory for the country your visiting. In some cases, we have different Advisory levels for different parts of the country. Mexico, for example, is a Travel Advisory Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution, but some areas of Mexico are Level 3 and 4. So it’s important to read each Advisory carefully.”
How do you determine the overall level for a country?
“We consider many factors to determine the Travel Advisory level for each country, including crime, terrorist activity, civil unrest, health, natural disaster/weather, and current events. We clearly explain the reason for the Travel Advisory level and describe the safety and security concerns.
“The information used to formulate Travel Advisories is collected from a range of sources, such as crime statistics and other information that is publicly available, information gathered from U.S. government sources, as well as assessments by our embassies and consulates. Travel Advisories also take into account decisions made to protect the security of U.S. government personnel overseas and ensure that U.S. citizens receive appropriate security information.
“This analysis is undertaken without regard to bilateral political or economic considerations. Travel Advisories represent our commitment to protect U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad by providing them important safety and security information.
“Travel Advisories are based on safety and security conditions that could affect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens abroad, not on political considerations.”
During the Obama administration there was an attempt to make it easier for travelers to come into US. How has the Trump Administration changed the way visitors are treated? Travel into the US from abroad is down 4-6% in 2017 – an otherwise a banner year for international travel – which is estimated to cost the US economy $4.5 billion and the loss of 40,000 jobs. Is this something the State Dept is concerned about?
“The Department of State remains committed to efficiently processing applications for legitimate travel to the United States.
“At the same time, every visa decision is a national security decision, and we must ensure that applicants do not pose a security risk to the United States. We have never hesitated to spend additional time evaluating visa applications to this end.
“However, we do recognize the importance of international travel and tourism to the U.S. Economy. 75.6 million visitors traveled to the United States in 2016. These visitors spent $244.7 billion and supported 1.2 million jobs here in the United States in 2016. The U.S. travel industry (international and domestic) is a substantial component of U.S. GDP and employment, contributing $1.6 trillion in economic activity.
“Together with other agencies, we are in contact with industry groups and work with them regularly to discuss concerns and opportunities.”
Some 15 countries around the world have travel alerts about travel to the United States because of gun violence. Can you comment?
“Our responsibility is to provide information for U.S. citizens traveling overseas. We’re aware that some countries have their own travel alerts, including regarding the United States, but we’d have to refer you to those countries for information on how they develop their alerts.”
During the Obama Administration, there also were programs to facilitate and encourage young people to travel abroad, take foreign internships, join programs like Peace Corps, coordinated through the State Department. Can you comment on such programs under the Trump Administration?
“Again this year, the Open Doors student mobility numbers showed an increase in American students studying abroad, topping more than 325,000 American students in academic year 2015/16. Increasingly, U.S. colleges and universities are making study abroad an integral component of the higher education experience for Americans. And more U.S. students than ever before are taking advantage of study abroad opportunities in a wide range of countries.
“To help facilitate this growth, the State Department launched the U.S. Study Abroad Office in 2015 with the goal of further increasing and diversifying U.S. participation in study abroad, including diversity of study, geographic representation and diversity of institutional types, as well as diversity of study abroad destinations around the globe. We work with U.S. and foreign institutions to expand opportunities and highlight the value of studying abroad. Our Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program increases participation in study abroad by providing resources to federal Pell grants recipients, and Critical Language Scholarship Programs provide training in over a dozen foreign languages critical to U.S. foreign policy priorities.
“Study abroad helps students understand the perspectives and values of others, enabling them to succeed in our diverse workplaces, communities and educational institutions. The State Department supports American colleges and universities in their efforts to increase study abroad. You can find more here:https://studyabroad.state.gov.”
What is the position from the State Department about the benefit of international travel – Americans going abroad and foreigners visiting the US – in terms of fostering people-to-people understanding?
“All of us who work in this field know how vital exchange programs and international study is to our shared future. It is one of the key means for the next generation of global leaders to gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in our global economy, foster progress in our societies, and address shared challenges.
“When people go abroad, they make connections that broaden their worldview. They become part of an international network of individuals with the shared experience of navigating new and unfamiliar languages, cultures and institutions, as they gain knowledge and develop resourcefulness and critical thinking skills. This experience is especially crucial for young people who will increasingly compete and interact in an interconnected world.
“The State Department sponsors exchange programs to increase mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, as a goal of U.S. foreign policy. These include the International Visitor Leadership Program and Fulbright Program, our flagship exchanges, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, Critical Language Scholarships, high school exchanges, as well as support for the global network of EducationUSA educational advising centers that provides information on U.S. study to international students worldwide.”