We call ourselves travel missionaries at this magazine. The mission is to get our readers out to experience the world, with all its eye-opening, mind-expanding, and life-enhancing possibilities. But at this moment it’s hard to focus on destinations and trip-planning strategies without addressing the economic problems that travel is facing. AIRLINES ARE QUEASY AS CUSTOMERS FLEE, a recent Wall Street Journal headline announced; LAUER TRAVELOGUE STAYING IN U.S. DUE TO ECONOMY, revealed usatoday.com, noting that the Today show is replacing this year’s “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer” segments with a series on affordable U.S. destinations.
At this moment it’s easy to lose sight of the positive impact of travel—not only as an agent of change for individuals but also for whole nations. By providing employment, health care, training, and education, tourism can dramatically improve a population’s standard of living. Impressive examples of this phenomenon are happening right now in many parts of the world, including Kenya, where safari lodges owned by local tribes act not only as sources of economic opportunity but also as stewards of their natural environment.
Some destinations have been faring better than others. Visitor numbers to Central and South America, Africa, India, and the Middle East have grown. With all-inclusive pricing and an abundance of special offers, cruising is also showing signs of vitality; the Port of Miami reported a 6.9 percent increase in cruise passenger traffic in January over last year. However, already pressed by the downgrading of budgets for corporate travel, certain prominent hotel brands have faced considerable challenges in the past few months because of the much publicized business meetings and events that have taken place at their properties. The bad press has worn off on five-star hotels, which have also become easy targets for the backlash against conspicuous consumption in general. This outcome is particularly unfortunate, as the hotels in question play an important role in their communities and their local economies. My publisher, J.P. Kyrillos, and I are pleased that this issue of T+L includes an ad promoting the Meetings Mean Business campaign of the U.S. Travel Association.
Even in good times, the U.S. government’s support of the travel and tourism industry has been rather tepid. This vital sector accounts for one out of every eight jobs in the United States, but nonetheless we lag considerably behind less wealthy countries, such as Panama and Australia, in the resources and per-capita dollars we devote to tourism. As I write this, promising signs are afoot that the trend will be reversed under the present administration: key members of the travel industry have recently met with President Obama to discuss the Travel Promotion Act (now stalled in the Senate), which would allow for government spending to encourage tourism to the United States.
Showcasing travel at home and abroad is what we do in the pages of Travel + Leisure, with stories about alluring destinations from Alaska to the Basque Country of France, to name just two in this issue. Our focus remains on providing T+L readers with the inspiration and information they need to achieve their dreams and aspirations. It’s a great time to travel—uniquely appealing and well-priced opportunities abound. If you can travel now, please do. It will help the world.