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In the 1980s, while on a college backpacking trip through Europe, I was able to go behind the Iron Curtain and visit East Berlin. I was a bit nervous traveling to someplace where, I imagined, there would be hostility toward Americans, but I decided it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Indeed, the experience was fascinating. Although most of the citizens of East Germany, as it was called back then, went about their daily lives without giving me more than a second look, a few brave people went out of their way to interact with me — helping with directions, asking about my life back home and sharing their political views.
What I found out then — and what has been confirmed through scores of travel experiences later on — is that most people are able to separate the citizens of a country from the actions of their government. We all know that, in many cases, the policies of a government are not the choice of its citizens, and sometimes actions that are done for the sake of the “greater good” of a nation are actually in direct opposition to the values of its society as a whole.
As several news outlets have reported, one of the consequences of President Trump’s recent travel ban has been that U.S. travelers are hesitant to go abroad because they are afraid of feeling unwelcome. Some travel agents have reported receiving concerned phone calls from clients, or even trip cancellations. Other agents say they see clients waiting longer to book — unsure about what to do.
Regardless of your political views, this kind of nervousness on the part of travelers is not good for our industry. Travel agents and suppliers need to be able to reassure their customers that, despite strong opinions about U.S. policies, international citizens in the vast majority of countries will welcome them. And agents are in a great position to assist nervous travelers, whether that’s by arranging escorted tours, putting them in the hands of a reliable in-destination operator or remaining up to date about the security situation on the ground.
There are, as always, some commonsense precautions travelers should take. But it’s important for agents to remind their clients that people all over the world are generally kind and warm-hearted — even when their governments are not.