banksy_dover5In now less than 75 days, on March 29th 2019 to be exact, Great Britain is scheduled to exit the European Union, to ‘BREXIT’. In doing so, breaking apart a 26-year-old union of 28 nations.

The Brexit deal – the terms under which the UK will leave the EU (including future management of borders, trade, etc.) is messy and after Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal was rejected, it’s getting worse, both in content and process. Why? Because figuratively speaking, it is a divorce. One in which once loving, or at least appreciative partners will part ways, taking their respective valuables with them. Naturally, bitter arguments unfold over who owns what, who values what, who gives access to where, who chooses to care. While the world has become comfortable with the term Brexit, there is no comfort to be felt in its true meaning; “Hell hath no fury like a political union torn”.

The same pertains to ‘The Wall’ – a US election promise by then candidate Donald Trump, to overtly, actively and insultingly keep certain people of neighboring nations out. Now, President Trump is putting politics first with a manufactured impasse, to fill a promise that is very unlikely to solve the issue at the hand. It would be far more if the debate about the border wall evolved beyond politics and sound bites to a factual review of underlying issues. The world is watching the US government, currently in shut-down mode, with approximately 800,000 federal employees and numerous contractors not getting paid. Meanwhile, air, land and sea border security issues are growing, with border protection officials and air traffic controllers justifiably staying away. An ironic outcome considering the wall was positioned as a way to protect American citizens.

What do these and other political disputes around the world have to do with tourism? And what will the impact be on travel in 2019? What indeed…

Looking ahead, it is hard not to feel both furious and exasperated by government induced insanity and the impact that it is having on the world around us. A world that has all the means of connectivity; mobile devices, aviation, economic empowerment, yet governments are consciously putting barriers in place to keep people apart. In time, these barriers, both political and physical, will not only shut down people’s movements; but they will shut down hearts, minds and of course, global economies.

Think about it. Think about what, as an example, Brexit really means for the travel industry.

As stated by The Conversation, a think tank of global leaders:

Three quarters of all overseas trips made by Britons are to the EU. Research by the Association of British Travel Agents found that UK tourists are worth Euro 37.4 billion a year to EU member states. The most popular destination for British tourists in 2017 was Spain with 19m Britons visiting the country, with France in second place.

Not to mention the negative impact of inbound travel to the UK from Europe, where, according to VisitBritain, 7 of the top 10 inbound source markets are within the EU. All this means that a ‘no deal’ outcome of trade negotiations would likely have far-reaching and costly implications on travel and tourism, and on national image.

Consider further, the hundreds of thousands of people from the UK working in the tourism and hospitality industry in the EU, and correspondingly vice versa? Is their employment secure? Are their futures secure?

Looking back to the US, today many museums are shut. Some National Parks are open, but trash and snow are piling up. The shutdown is inflicting severe damage on the domestic economy and a toll on its citizens. And as an example, with rising numbers of TSA officers now calling in sick and others quitting altogether, airport lines are getting longer. The impact: intolerable.

Facts matter, and what must not be forgotten is the further impact on human nature. Whether from the UK, EU, US or anywhere in the world:

  • No one wants to travel to a place where they feel unwanted and unwelcome
  • No one wants to travel to a place where they feel unappreciated
  • No one wants to travel to a place where they feel unsure about their ability to move around

So where to from here? How do those of us in the travel industry work together, continuing to build bridges across the world and break down walls?

First of all be engaged politically and have a voice. Ensure you vote as today your life does depend on it. I have heard from too many British and American friends who didn’t vote and today regret it. Many people do not vote, as they think their one vote will not make a change, but as a matter of fact, it does. A nation’s political fundamentals are built using elections. Be involved. Be heard.

And in the travel arena, despite uncertainty and what appear to be extra barriers introduced by the governments we now have, we must remain determined and continue to travel. We are global citizens and tourism remains the best way to break down cultural barriers and unite, rather than divide.

Whatever 2019 may bring in the months ahead, may we never for a moment forget the fundamental difference we are making by keeping our world open, moving people across borders and cultures, across ideologies and possibilities.

Wishing you politically charged as well as exciting and enriched travels in 2019.

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