Tourism

Should travel companies shout out or shut up on politics?

Tara Harrison

Tara Harrison

In one of the biggest threats to the free movement of people, President Donald Trump’s executive order prohibiting travel was met with global dismay. The since-overturned order targeted Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The response by the travel industry was split into those who issued a reaction and those who stayed quiet.

Intrepid Travel was the one Australian travel company who issued a position on the travel ban.

“Intrepid spoke out about the travel ban because we believe that businesses can be a force for good and should stand up for their values,” Intrepid Group managing director James Thornton said.

They experienced a backlash, however. Negative comments posted on their blog and Facebook page read that politics and business shouldn’t mix.

Intrepid Group and Thornton ‘respectfully disagree’.

“Global companies shouldn’t operate in silos and it’s particularly important to consider the part they can play in advocating for staff, customers, and the communities they operate in.”

When we spoke to heavy-hitter The Travel Corporation, they had a different attitude.

The Travel Corporation CEO Brett Tollman was unsure that travel companies had a role to play in the political sphere.

Tollman said there was no conversation within the ranks of the organization to address the travel ban.

“I think we are too small and it’s not our place.”

That conversation took place a week back, at the launch of Adventure World’s United States program.

“Rather, we do events like this to encourage people to travel to the US.”

So is it as pragmatic as identifying your traveller and tapping into their sentiments?

It can be said that Intrepid’s travellers are socially aware.

The same, however, could be said of G Adventures, who share like-minded clientele. They chose not to express a position.

With no official statement regarding the travel ban from founder Bruce Poon Tip or the company, they felt it was not their place to comment – “at this time”.

In contrast, US-based travel technology companies were very much on the front foot.

TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer issued a decree condemning the travel ban as “cruel and discriminatory”.

Expedia filed a lawsuit against the ban with CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, an Iranian immigrant, addressing the economic impact of the order.

Airbnb was a quick responder, offering housing to those displaced by the executive order and launching a not-so-subtle TVC during the Superbowl to promote tolerance and the hashtag ‘we accept’.

Perhaps their trajectory as disrupters to the traditional travel industry puts them in good steed to take on the establishment, political or otherwise.

The travel ban may have been overturned by the justice system in the US, but travellers are wary. The fall out continues, and is affecting Australian operators and Australian travellers. We will follow up with an investigation next week.

Have your say: Do you think the travel industry has a responsibility to act as activist?

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