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Travel is a Bright Spot

I have a feeling 2024 could get messy.

Several unique and positive things take place on the same four-year cycle. In February, we celebrated Leap Year, always a fun diversion in the doldrums of winter. And in late July and early August, the world’s eyes will be fixed on the Summer Olympics in Paris, a tradition that brings a lot of joy and camaraderie to athletes and fans around the world.

But after the closing ceremonies, America’s attention will turn to something much more divisive: the 2024 presidential election.

Elections are essential to democracy, but in recent cycles our presidential elections have become rather dysfunctional. They have evolved from important decisions that most people treated seriously to zero-sum, scorched-earth battles that leave a lot of damaged relationships and broken institutions in their wake. And unfortunately, there’s no indication the situation will improve in 2024. In fact, there’s reason to believe it may get worse.

This concerns me for all sorts of reasons. One is that political fights and culture wars seem to be reaching further and further into areas of life once considered neutral territory — including travel.

I’m old enough to remember when it was considered impolite to discuss politics in public. But the red-hot nature of our political rhetoric over the last few years has caused a lot of people to forget their manners. If you have groups out on the road this summer and fall, there’s a good chance people in those groups may discuss the presidential election. And if they support different candidates, those discussions could get heated.

Squabbling among passengers isn’t the only way in which political discord threatens travel though. As America continues to sort itself more starkly between red and blue states, with people relocating to surround themselves with others who share their political views, ideological divisions threaten to impact the way people choose travel destinations. I have already heard about people from red states who refuse to travel to blue states and vice versa. And if this year’s presidential election turns out to be as ugly as the last one, self-segregation of travelers could become worse.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Instead of allowing travel to suffer at the hands of political polarization, we can use travel to tear down barriers and build bridges. Travel has the ability to bring people together — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. Traveling with people who are not like us and visiting destinations that are different than the places where we live expands our perspectives and helps us build empathy.

As a conscientious travel planner, you can design and lead your trips in a way that leverages the unifying power of travel. You can take your customers to places they wouldn’t go on their own and introduce them to people who see the world in diverse ways. You can give them opportunities to discover the humanity they share with people who vote differently than they do. And you can remind them we have much more to celebrate together than we have to argue about.

This year’s election may get messy, but I’m not going to let that mess ruin my travel adventures. I hope you won’t either.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.