A politically charged issue can turn a desirable travel or meeting destination into a hotbed of controversy, and meeting and travel professionals can be caught in the middle, and left looking for resources and support. A recently released research study, The Weaponization of Travel, conducted by APCO is a joint effort by the Destinations International Foundation and the PCMA Foundation that explores whether travel boycotts and bans work to effect political change, the life of a boycott, and the long-term impact to a destination’s brand.
As the trade association for Convention and Visitors Bureaus, Destinations International, presented this new research at the well-attended session on the Weaponization of Travel, during the Annual Convention in early July. We provide the interviews below as recap of the session and access to the full report for a deeper understanding.
Andreas Weissenborn, Director of Research and Analytics, Destinations International
Can you tell us a little about why the Destinations International Foundation and the PCMA Education Foundation were compelled to support this research?
Really, this stems mostly from the situation in North Carolina where the state actively kept the destination organizations from communicating the lost business and opportunities that were occurring because of the bathroom bill. Destinations International took the situation as an opportunity to help advocate for our members, and also to speak to the greater issue of boycotts/bans becoming weapons against travel which fundamentally is bad for the meetings and travel industry.
How does Destinations International plan to educate its CVB membership on the findings to better serve planners and the meetings industry? And are there future plans for additional research in this area?
In addition to our webinar on September 21st, you are going to see sequels to this study where we focus exclusively on meeting planners and the meetings industry as it relates to boycotts and travel bans. We realize the meetings industry views boycotts and travel bans from a broader perspective than our initial American traveler study; so we hope to further inform them with a meetings focused survey. In addition to a meetings focused version of the study, we hope to also look into an international component of travel boycotts/bans. Finally, we plan to build out a toolkit for our CVB members based upon the alternatives that are outlined in our initial study.
Lauren Compton, Director, APCO Insight
Can we begin by asking you to define the difference between a boycott and a travel ban?
For the purposes of this study, a travel ban is defined as formal action on the part of a business, state or local municipality or other entity to stop travel within its organization to a specific state.
Travel boycotts are efforts to encourage travelers to avoid target states. Travel advisories are efforts to raise awareness on an issue and advise caution in travel, but don’t go as far as to outright encourage people to avoid travel to a state.
What were some of the major perceptual themes from travelers that emerged from this research on the weaponization of travel?
Americans are unsure of the effectiveness of travel boycotts and have yet to definitively decide whether they are for or against boycotting a state. In contrast, they clearly agree boycotts hurt businesses, employers and even residents, but not politicians. Given this, Americans see many viable alternatives that are just as good if not better than boycotts.
Were you surprised by any of the findings in particular?
I was surprised by Americans’ uncertainty on whether they support or oppose boycotts. It appears both supporters and opponents have yet to make a compelling enough case that resonates with the U.S. public.
Dustin Arnheim, Director of Convention Sales, Visit Indy
How can a planner begin to think proactively about a destination and the potential for the occurrence of politically charged issues that could impact their meeting?
Many organizations have government relations staff that can monitor proposed legislation for future meeting destinations. Meeting planners, along with their government relations staff, can partner and should have discussion with their CVB representatives about any possible social or industry-related legislation that might impact selecting a destination. This two-way dialogue empowers both sides.
How can the CVB help planners navigate this type of turmoil in the destination?
Engage with your CVB partners, share the details of your organization’s concerns and ask for help in tailoring a comprehensive plan that specifically addresses the concerns. CVBs can help in educating the organization on the proposed bill, the anticipated outcome, and help an organization understand how the legislation may (or may not) impact their meeting/event experience. Once this is understood, the CVB has a team ready to assist with everything from communication materials for board members to facilitating how an organization can engage with state legislatures.
To view the full study: The Weaponization of Travel-Detailed Report July 2017
To hear more from our panelist and see details from the study, we hope you will join us for our September webinar.