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The Politics of Tourism

Issue # 11 800 Words/4 Minutes

As the United States Continues to Fragment Politically, What Does This Mean for Tourism?

In a groundbreaking study last summer, my associate Lauren Schlau and I identified this split in our research ( ). We found that approximately 35% of those identifying as left politically, 39% as right, and 20% as centrist indicated that a destination's political orientation influenced their destination selection.

For the past several decades, the United States has been coming apart geographically based on politics. We have seen the cultural gap between conservatives and liberals widen over time, especially over five years. Now, the divide is becoming a chasm.

Tourism was once divorced from many of the social issues that came across the American landscape, and DMOs, for the most part, were content to promote and market their destination without much impact from the social dynamics of the day. Yes, they adapted to social changes, but rarely have they faced "social conflict" in the way states and destinations are now confronted.

The recent DNYUZ article "Flurry of New Laws Move Blue and Red States Further Apart" ( illustrates how states now are defining themselves by the laws they adopt to fight culture wars. With Republicans dominating the redistricting process in many states, legislatures are becoming even more polarized. Safely redistricted Republican activists aggressively pursue conservative social policies, and liberal states take defensive action. Fueling the fight is a belief that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to upend many long-standing rights.

In the same article, Jon Michaels, a law professor from the University of California, Los Angeles, comments, "We're further polarizing and fragmenting (states) so that blue states and red states are becoming not a little different but radically different."

The DNYUZ article states, "Americans have been sorting into opposing partisan camps for at least a generation, choosing more and more to live among like-minded neighbors, while legislatures, through gerrymandering, are reinforcing their states' political identities by solidifying one-party rule."

It is not just states that are politically fragmenting but also regions within a state. In my state of California, there is a significant divide between red and blue area regions, as seen in the 2020 presidential map of election results by County. While blue voters outnumber red voters by over five million votes, the geographic split is clear.

But what's the impact on the tourism industry? Plenty. As this blue and red gap increases, one only has to look at the recent fight between Disney and the Governor of Florida regarding the "Don't Say Gay" legislation. This legislation proposed by the Florida legislature and championed by the governor bans instruction or classroom discussion about LGBTQ issues for kindergarten through third grade. For older students, discussion about gay and transgender issues has to be "age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate." Disney, one of the largest employers in the state with 60,000 employees, was publicly critical of the law. As a result, the Florida legislature is looking to rescind Disney's ability to manage its holdings independently from the County they are in.

Part of the challenge is that DMOs don't control the message from its destination in its entirety. While DMOs have controlled and shaped the message about their destination to the marketplace for years, they often didn't have to compete with politically divisive messages coming from the same destination, which they can't control. The broader and more troubling potential is for vacation trips to become segmented based on political beliefs. Will conservatives choose not to visit California? Will liberals never go to Texas? One can only imagine the potential of this trend.

Even when attempting to be neutral in promoting a destination, you run the risk of offending someone. Last year, one DMO in the south decided not to promote its historical statues of Confederate generals overtly. That act ran afoul of some residents who complained the organization was woke.

The road ahead for DMOs might have some bumps along the way. Will destinations and DMOs become more impacted by social conflict in the bigger picture? We have seen destinations and communities split based on their reaction to vaccinations during the pandemic. We are now seeing destinations diverge along political lines, and one only wonders what's next?

Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from Johnny Cash, who once sang about a touring folk group that mixed politics with the ballads of the country.

Don't go mixin' politics with the folk songs of our land Just work on harmony and diction Play your banjo well And if you have political convictions, keep them to yourself

Take Another Path

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