Why tourists should think twice before boycotting travel destinations

February 26, 2018, 11:46 AM · Should theme park fans avoid certain destinations? Do you have any social responsibility as a travel consumer? And if you do, are travel boycotts even effective?

These questions bubble into the conversation every time I write about the development of new theme parks in the United Arab Emirates and sometimes when I write about China. But they emerge from time to time over theme parks in Florida and other destinations, too. Within the past week, some people have started talking on Twitter about boycotting travel to Florida over the state's lax approach to gun control.

So what should you do? Are there places you should not consider traveling to visit theme parks, or for any other purpose?

Here's my take: Let's start with what ought to be obvious. You should not plan to visit any destination that you are not legally allowed to visit. For international visitors, there are very few countries completely closed to certain visitors. But there are many countries that you cannot legally enter without a visa or proper documentation. So get a passport, do your research and get the necessary visas before traveling to a specific destination. Never try to sneak your way into a vacation.

Okay, that was obvious. Let's dive into the stickier ethical issues.

In my view, it's your money. If you don't want to spend it somewhere, then don't. Outside of paying taxes and settling debts, you are not under any obligation to hand over your money to anyone you don't wish to support. If you don't want to spend your money in Dubai, or China, or Florida, or going to SeaWorld or Disney, then don't. Go somewhere else, where you do want to spend your money.

But what if you do kinda want to go somewhere, but other people are saying that is socially irresponsible?

Again, it's your money, so it's your choice. But I believe that consumer boycotts are typically ineffective unless they cost a business or a community a measurably significant share of its income — something far more than the seasonal variance in the amount of money it makes in any given period. But to do that, a boycott must be (1) well organized, (2) sharply targeted and (3) widely communicated. Unless you are a free-spending billionaire who alone counts of a significant share of someone's income, your individual business means nothing to anyone's bottom line. You must organize with others to have an effect. And the target of your boycott must know who's costing them money, and why.

This is why I think the "boycott Florida over gun control" argument is silly. It's not sharply targeted enough. Boycotting specific businesses that support the gun industry or supporting campaigns against pro-gun politicians are more sharply targeted efforts. Disney and Universal are not players in the gun debate, so why drag them into this?

I believe that travel does much more social good in this world than having everyone stay at home and never getting to meet or experience people from other regions, countries, or cultures. I think it is better for people in the Middle East, or Russia, or anywhere else in the world to see and meet and interact with a respectful and curious American tourist than to never see an American IRL and have their opinion of my country shaped by people with an anti-American agenda.

Feel free to flip or substitute the names of other counties in that statement, too. We Americans could stand to meet a lot more of the world, as well.

There's a reason why totalitarian regimes close their borders and why cults work to keep their people from straying too far from the flock. You can't control a narrative if people are free to meet others from outside the bubble. In general, I believe that travel is an inherently socially responsible act.

Yes, there are places where tourists are collectively now doing more harm than good. I have written before how I dislike how some massive cruise ships distort communities by belching ten times the local population into them for shore excursions. And some destinations simply can't handle the environmental impact of all their visitors. (I have a fantasy that we pay for the maintenance of our national parks by magically fining $100 anytime someone cuts a switchback on a trail and $1,000 anytime someone guns a motorboat through a shallow channel. And it's jail time if you don't pack out or responsibly dispose of your trash. Yeah, I'm a dreamer.)

But it would be the height of irony to withdraw from the world around us in the name of "social" responsibility. So go. Engage. Interact. Learn. Grow. And let's pop some more of the social bubbles that keep us from working together to make ours a better world. Travel is good for us.

Replies (18)

February 26, 2018 at 11:57 AM · Good article. I'd like to add though, that before you boycott a place on principle because of some perceived social injustice /issue, educate yourself.

Do more than look up the Wikipedia page and if s particular news story has turned you off, then investigate what actually happened to understand the issue better.

You may do yourself out of the trip of a lifetime because of pure ignorance.

February 26, 2018 at 12:02 PM · Great article and I think it best explains what a real boycott needs to be real and happening.

You deciding not to go to Disney or Universal over politics is not going to do much of a dent. They are both multi million dollar theme park enterprises which are supported (and support) multi billion dollar media companies. Your refusal to pay $100 to enter their parks is a microscopic drop in their suspiciously large pail.

To add to the irony, Disney and Universal have been slammed by the NRA for years for their "strict" gun control requirements for their workers. If you want to find a FL industry that is hated by the NRA, its the theme parks!

February 26, 2018 at 12:44 PM · >>>Here's my take: Let's start with what ought to be obvious. You should not plan to visit any destination that you are not legally allowed to visit.

I would go further.

Check with you own governments department of foreign affairs, state department, or equivalent. If you’re bored check the websites for other countries equivalents. If it says do not visit, do not visit. If it gives other information about local customs or frequent scams, pay attention!

February 26, 2018 at 12:51 PM · THIS!!!!: "I believe that travel does much more social good in this world than having everyone stay at home and never getting to meet or experience people from other regions, countries, or cultures. I think it is better for people in the Middle East, or Russia, or anywhere else in the world to see and meet and interact with a respectful and curious American tourist than to never see an American IRL and have their opinion of my country shaped by people with an anti-American agenda."

Thank you, Robert! I completely agree with this statement.... and it goes beyond the idea of boycotts. I had an epic trip to Egypt planned exactly one month after 9/11.... Pretty much everyone we knew was telling us not to go considering the state of affairs in the world in general and the Middle East in particular. But we went anyway and had the most amazing time!! Tourist travel to Egypt had taken a HUGE hit after the attacks and the Egyptian people -- the folks who made their living off of tourism -- were SOOO glad and appreciative that we were there.

Obviously, if you feel strongly about something, then go with that. But if you are considering making a trip change just to bow to public opinion or out of fear, don't. As Robert said, it is always best to go out and show traveling Americans in the best light.... And, being a Florida native, I say that as someone who knows the importance of tourism to people who have little or no control of political or social acts.

February 26, 2018 at 1:08 PM · I don't understand why people allow politics to guide their vacation decisions. Not visiting a place is not going to change that region/culture's political stance, and you only end up depriving yourself from seeing what might be a unique part of our planet.

Most people appear to participate in boycotts out of ignorance or naivety, not because they want to be an influencer for a particular cause. They bow to a group they may peripherally agree with politically, and feel peer pressure to follow the crowd. Conversely, those groups/causes use flawed logic to mock and criticize those visiting boycotted destinations or purchasing from blacklisted companies that they are crossing some unwritten "picket line" or must support those places/entities politically because of their visit/purchase.

Stop being lemmings people, and make decisions because that's what you want and how you feel, not because someone else says you're a hypocrite for going to a place with leaders that don't align with your politics or social morals. The world is your oyster, and by deliberately segregating yourself from specific locations of the planet, you will never have a full taste of what this wonderful place has to offer.

February 26, 2018 at 1:17 PM · International travel to the US already took a hit last year. It's in the billions becuse of plane fares, hotels, food, rental cars, etc. The same costs can be added to Florida, so it's not just the theme parks being affected. I guess you can thank the internet for letting people know not only about Pulse, Vegas, Parkland but all the other shootings we get.
February 26, 2018 at 2:05 PM · Unfortunately, this form of direct action, proliferated by distorted social media on the ill-informed masses has had dire business consequences on SeaWorld which it may never recover from. This is the example as people boycotted it in their hundreds of thousands without knowing, or researching the facts, simply going along and being swept up by what a handful of animal socialists were telling them. The power of social media outweights the power of facts, balanced analysis and reasoning if done right.
February 26, 2018 at 2:48 PM · Let's turn it around. Are businesses are allowed to boycott your business if they don't like your political stance? Should the NBA be allowed to boycott North Carolina for it's politics? Should United and Delta be allowed to boycott the NRA because of politics? Should Google be allowed to fire employees because of politics? These all happened.

You can't say there's no effect of all these decisions. North Carolina backed down and change their bathroom laws because the pressure was too great. The NRA boycott resulted in NRA members boycotting United, Delta, and other companies for their actions. Google finds itself being sued for firing an employee for discrimination and people are noticing how Google is biased and looking for alternatives (triggering it's own boycott).

So if you don't want to visit, then don't, but let the boycotter beware.

February 26, 2018 at 3:12 PM · Anton, each of the instances of "boycotting" you mention are actually just instances of businesses severing relations with other entities. Big difference between boycotting something and choosing not to partner with something. An airline choosing not to continue an NRA membership program due to their controversial nature is not a boycott, not even a statement of disagreement with the NRA. Are people who decide not to travel to Chinese theme parks (where The gov actually owns and directly benefits from the parks) boycotting or attempting to change the Chinese gov? No, they're just choosing who to give their own money to.
February 26, 2018 at 3:24 PM · You're saying a business cannot boycott? That's not how it happens. It's part of the boycott movement that includes businesses. The NRA has many businesses boycotting. It added up. The NRA members are noticing the boycott and are responding by boycotting the businesses.

A boycott is a mass taking your business elsewhere. It does work. That's why they do it.

Here's a list of companies boycotting the NRA.
Delta, United Airlines, Hertz, MetLife, SimpliSafe, First National Bank of Omaha, Paramount Rx, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Alamo Rent a Car, and National Car Rental, Symantec, Best Western, Wyndham Hotel Group, Republic Bank, Avis and Budget.

February 26, 2018 at 3:26 PM · I don't support or care about a boycott or anything like that, but us Floridians know that anything involving a boycott of tourism will get the attention of Rick Scott and the Florida Legislator real quick. Although historically he has been pro-gun, trust me, if less money is coming into the state Tallahassee will act on gun laws.

I think you're already starting to see that by the fact they are actually having debates on it. This is making Florida look bad as a destination and the governor (who will also be pressured from a bunch of businesses in the states biggest industry and #1 employer) does not want to piss them off.

February 26, 2018 at 3:54 PM · Great article, one of the best on this site recently. Ultimately, the decision whether or not to visit a destination is your decision, and yours alone. It is very important to do proper research and understand both sides of any issue before deciding how to respond on it, and by making decisions based on only the most vocal view you're essentially letting the public run your personal life. As long as there isn't a safety issue related to your intended destination, if you want to visit then do it even if many say you shouldn't. If friends will stop being your friends solely because they disagree with how you spend your money, they probably aren't very good friends to start with.
February 26, 2018 at 6:36 PM · I'm boycotting Tokyo Disney Resort for not being close enough to my house.
February 27, 2018 at 3:13 AM · I visited Luxor, Egypt just a month after the Luxor massacre. In the whole country there where military men with guns, I didn't feel safe to me. I visited London and Paris months after terrorist attacks, I didn't see much guns, I felt safe. I go to Florida and know everyone could have a gun, I don't feel safe. It's my perspective from my country and what I'm used to, I'm not used to guns.

None of these things do withhold me from going somewhere. I know "feeling safe" is just that, a feeling. In the end it's something unnatural that is created to keep your sensibility down. In the far past humans, like animals, were hunted or be hunt by fellow man or animals. And looking at statistics not much is changed.

In the end it's all propaganda. You can be born in a country that waves it's flags, promotes it's so freedom and is the self proclaimed best country in the world. Or you live in a country that is spinned as stupid, that has no freedom, that has bad food, that lives in the middle ages with insane measures to enter because of fear and where everyone is holding a gun resulting in more death than any terrorist could ever dream to achieve.

Non of the above statements are absolute or completely true or untrue. Lots of them are the result of history or the kind of maturity a people developed.No one should claim to be better but it's upon the individual to make up its mind and go there or not. But if you go, step out of the bubble and connect. You won't have less problems with the issues in that country but at least you get a better understanding.

February 27, 2018 at 9:25 AM · For what its worth, Indiana took a tourism hit when their Governor Pence signed his "Defense of Religion" act.
February 27, 2018 at 11:30 AM · Don't worry, I have plenty other good reasons to avoid Dubai.
February 27, 2018 at 5:33 PM · A lot of friends are boycotting the States due to the current admin. In addition to this meaning I couldn't visit my favourite parks and escape the Canadian winter I do not do this as it punishes thecwrong people plus I would rather people see my personality as a good will unofficial ambassador.
March 1, 2018 at 12:26 PM · Ultimately I agree it is your decision whether or not you wish to visit any country. There is ignorance everywhere and people tend to believe one point of view without any validation of the facts.

However, I know quite a few Canadians who are choosing not to go to the US as they may have regularly done. I would say it is as a result of the current currency difference, Trump's latest televised opinions about Canadians and the issues with gun control. Maybe more so about the latter.

For us, we try to ignore the political comments and even the currency difference. But I think issues with gun control does make me wonder about my safety.

Does it mean that we won't make our yearly trek to Florida like many of my counterparts. Probably not, but it will make me think twice about where we travel outside of the parks.

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