I love travel. For me the ability to freely discover new places and people is a fundamental part of the fabric of who I am. It is what turns my profession into my vocation.
I have never given much thought to the possibility of this right coming under threat. That is, not until recently, when I, or rather we all, noticed that matters started to go very wrong. My view of the world has always been that of a global community, and yet today our world appears to be facing unprecedented challenges not just to our unity, but also to our humanity. Basic privileges are disappearing. Boundaries are being created. Such measures, unless stopped, will not only make travel inaccessible, but also increase the inhumanity amongst us.
I am quite certain that none of us will ever forget the alarming sight of a traveler – a doctor no less – with a paid seat, being forcibly removed from a plane. Why? Because the airline crew needed to fly. Policy or not, the actions of the Chicago police, requested by the airline personnel, were inexcusable and unforgivable. Finally, after much backlash, the airline CEO even admitted so. Humanity came second to policy.
It’s easy to draw parallels to another unacceptable situation ongoing in the same part of the world: an American President attempting to place ‘un-American’ travel bans, of what appears to be outright discrimination and violation of not just democracy, but human decency.
My confusion around where our supposedly ‘civilized’ world is heading is multi-faceted. I was born into the hospitality and travel industry. My grandfather, at the tender age of 14, left Russia, alone, hidden under potato sacks with just 12 gold sovereigns sewed into the lining of his jacket. By 1920 he had established a new life for himself in South Africa, laying the foundations for future generations, where he purchased a small hotel in a remote fishing village. His vision of caring, inclusive, exceptional service, has been a guiding light for our family for over three generations. I must add that I grew up in Apartheid South Africa, where our hotels refused segregation laws, opening our doors to all, at the explicit risk of a harshly negative response. Despite the risks, my family was, and remains, steadfast in the commitment to ensure that all guests feel both honoured and respected.
I myself, admittedly in very different circumstances, have been fortunate to run a global travel business. However; I am also an immigrant, three times over in fact, having moved from South Africa to the United Kingdom, United States and now Switzerland. Every time I moved forward, I was discovering the individuality of each culture, running a business firmly rooted in a belief of individuality and respect, always putting the guest is at the forefront of all that we do.
What we are seeing today is beyond comprehension. Despite the importance of travel to economies and business that should put people and service first and foremost, sadly we find ourselves in an environment led by narrow minded political rhetoric, and poor business practices. Humanity is being pushed aside, hostility (in the name of security) is being given priority. In truth, these political and corporate policies appear to want to keep people out.
I firmly believe that travel is, and must remain, our world’s great educator and unifier – the unquestionable basis for greater understanding, respect and peace. It is the quintessential bridge that connects us all. We need to be building bridges in humanity, not walls. This truism is known by all of us in the travel industry.
Mark Twain captured this wholeheartedly: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
As an industry, and as consumers, we need to ensure that whilst fresh in all of our minds, we speak our minds. Regardless of our standing from CEO, or leaders of the free world, we must not allow this spirit of poor service, this overt segregation, to spread. There is no policy that can make the sentiment of ‘stay away’ acceptable. Never has it been more important to venture outside of our familiar surrounds, to go and discover the culturally rich and diverse wonders of the world we live in. And the people with whom we share it.
I have lived and loved the United States for many decades. Actions being taken, be they Executive Orders or inexplicable removal of airline passengers, are not what the land of the free has ever stood for and neither should it. It’s imperative that we realign ourselves with what made the United States and indeed our entire shared global community extraordinary.
It is the shared responsibility of each and every one of us to inspire, motivate and collaborate, and not separate and alienate.
Let’s return to a time when common sense created common bonds, a time when civilisation put civility front and centre.
For if there is one thing I am absolutely certain of, it is this: we are so much better than this.