By Jim McCaul, Destinations International
The past two years have seen an unending series of politically sparked boycotts and counter-boycotts, due in large part to an increasingly competitive business environment and changing consumer expectations; with destinations more and more frequently becoming targets. Travel boycotts have risen in popularity in recent years and are regularly making headlines today. Last year, the Destinations International Foundation, along with the PCMA Education Foundation and APCO Insight, released The Weaponization of Travel study to examine whether or not these boycotts were effective and what alternatives might prove more impactful.
The research showed that neither side is convinced on whether boycotts work or not. An equal number of travelers surveyed said they felt strongly that boycotts are an effective tactic in compelling action (15%) as those who do not (15%). However, there is strong consensus (76% of travelers) that boycotts hurt the hospitality industry, particularly local hotel and restaurant owners and employees. A majority also believe participating in discussions, contacting politicians and donating to causes that advocate in the community are all better ways to affect change.
Last month, Carnival Corp. showed us just what a meaningful alternative to travel boycotts looks like. In February, Bermuda’s legislature passed, and their governor signed into law, a bill eliminating the right of gay couples to marry that was extended through a Bermuda Supreme Court ruling last year and replaced it with domestic partnership. The act drew criticism from many activists after it was enacted, with some calling for a boycott on travel to the destination.
Carnival however opposed a boycott, noting that any reduction in travel to the island would negatively impact the local economy and people. "Our engagement includes providing OUTBermuda with financial, civic and public relations support, as well as involvement by our company," Carnival said in a statement. "At their urging, we believe it is best to align our actions with the [LGBTQ] community and others who live and work in Bermuda and depend on tourism for their living. We believe we can have the most significant impact through direct action." The company will also file an affidavit to support the legal action of OUTBermuda.
What the impacts of these efforts will be remains to be seen, but the company has clearly come to realize that travel boycotts are ineffective, hurt the wrong people and are counterproductive. And while it may be true that not every organization or individual traveler has the finances or political capitol that Carnival Corp. has, there are still lessons that can be learned from their actions and translated at a smaller scale. If you’re a meeting organizer who is planning an event in Bermuda, or any destination with legislation which runs counter to your organization’s values, reach out to organizations on the ground such as OUTBermuda who can connect you with LGBTQ owned vendors. Contact the local destination organization and ask how you can add your voice to the conversation, or at minimum get an accurate understanding of the legislation and its impacts from someone on the ground.
And finally, even if you’re an individual travel, visit the destination, start a conversation and share your perspective. Change never occurs in a vacuum. As Kevin Dallas, CEO of The Bermuda Tourism Authority, so eloquently stated, “We believe in the transformative power of travel, the exchange of ideas and the understanding it inspires. We encourage all travelers to Bermuda, including LGBT visitors, to continue participating in this important exchange with us."
Customers now expect, and sometimes demand, that companies take stands on political issues. It’s a conversation that is now at the front end of what every board room in America is thinking about. Our hope is that more companies, organizations and individuals will learn from Carnival’s example, and move the conversation beyond a knee-jerk reaction to boycott and find more ways to meaningfully impact the communities they care about.
About Jim McCaul:
As Vice President of Destination Development and Advocacy, Jim McCaul helps to execute public policy operations at Destinations International including member advocacy education and training, development of destination tools and best practices, coalition work with peer organizations, industry research and related public affairs activities.
McCaul has over 10 years of experience in the tourism industry and has worked on projects for a multitude of destination organizations around the world. Prior joining Destinations International, McCaul served as an Online Marketing Specialist with Solimar International, as part of a development project to increase visitor arrivals to Namibia by expanding the marketing of the country as a tourism destination.
McCaul has served a number of roles at Destinations International, beginning as Content Manager, before being promoted to Director of Communications and his current role as Vice President of Destination Development and Advocacy. He holds a Masters of Tourism Administration with a focus in Sustainable Destination Management from The George Washington University.