Why More Americans Don’t Travel Abroad – CNN Article Misses the Boat

Posted on February 4, 2011

CNN has an article on its website that lists the reasons that only 30% of us now have passports.

The numbers tell the story: Of the 308 million-plus citizens in the United States, 30% have passports.That’s just too low for such an affluent country, said Bruce Bommarito, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the U.S. Travel Association.

“Americans are comfortable in their own environment,” Bommarito said. [CNN]

Honestly, when I see the US listed as an affluent country, I wonder if I’m in the right place.  And when I see that we are comfortable in our own environment, that gives me pause because so many people have lost their homes and many are now in shelters.  I felt I should check the date this article was written.

Aside from loving to travel in the US and being more comfortable  here where we find such diversity  and beautiful places, these are some of the other reasons given why we Americans are reluctant to travel abroad:

  • Our culture doesn’t emphasize knowledge of the world.
  • Negative media reports about the world. For example, he said that Nicaragua always draws negative connotations because of the political and civil unrest that has been covered in the news.
  • Americans tend to choose money over leisure time.  There is the work ethic to contend with in this regard as well.  Then, too, workers in Europe have had, until recently, more vacation time than their US counterparts.
  • We’re a big country, and we have a culture of traveling within the United States, Bommarito said. When you’re born and raised in a European or South Asian country, your access to other countries is much easier

The above are very good reasons but one of the top reasons CNN overlooked:  an aging American population that remembers when travel was easier and more fun.  It does not like travel so much these days because it is so uncomfortable – at least by air.  And this large group are largely retired and now on fixed incomes.

This reporter hears so many people discussing how air travel these days just isn’t worth the effort – there is nothing exciting or glamorous about it anymore.

  • Airlines keep adding costs for extra bags, larger seats, seats with a certain location within the cabin.
  • There is less or no food service combined with the escalating costs.

Americans watch the National Geographic channel, the Olympics – many programs on TV that are set overseas.  There are two difficulties with overseas travel these days that make it more difficult to travel.

  • Terrorism – it has made so many former destinations unreachable now: Iran, Egypt, and even Israel.  Kenya and other African destinations are unsafe at times.
  • Anti-Americanism is on the rise and a very important factor.
  • You can’t get blood from a stone – a high percentage of people in the US don’t even have a job, others have had their hours or pay cut.

The article points out that sooner or later we will have to travel because business is going more global.  We will need to know more languages, etc.  This is not a slothful public avoiding sophistication.  This is a country that has been:

  • Deprived of language training in the early years of school – or none at all.
  • Had television programming that is limited by lack of access to the television of other countries.  That would breed familiarity and go a long way to end fears.
  • Europeans have many more languages right next door to them than Americans.  This is indeed a big country and  until recently, you could go miles and never find another foreign-speaking person.  I have got a Chinese friend who boasts he can to to California and not speak a word of English.  The future is now CNN.  The world is coming to us.

Apparently the head of the US Travel Association was the only one interviewed for the CNN article. The result of this was that it was more of an advertisement than an informative piece.