LIKE IT or not, politics and tourism continue to travel together for better or worse. Vacationers in the '80s will want to keep fully informed about internal developments, whatever destination they choose. A sagging dollar and high costs are one thing -- a friendly welcome and personal safety are another.
In Washington and around the country, travel agents have been recovering from the shock of a rude awakening in Manila. A traditionally warm Philippine welcome got too hot when a terrorist bomb injured a number of delegates to the American Society of Travel Agents' World Travel Congress last month. The convention was aborted.
ASTA had decided at first to ignore direct threats from terrorists who oppose Philipping President Ferdinand Marcos and had sought to embarrass his government and hurt tourism. Marcos was present in the International Convention Center when the explosion occurred but was uninjured.
Aside from the question of legal and financial liabilities if ASTA had canceled the congress before it began, officials pointed out that delegates from a number of foreign travel destinations accept terrorism as a daily fact of life. As an international organization for whom freedom of movement and first-hand inspection is a vital necessity, ASTA's bowing automatically to terrorists would be tantamount to curtailing its functions and renouncing its responsibilities, officials believed. Two previous, smaller international travel meetings which had also been threatened were held without incident.
Critics, on the other hand, maintained that a country under martial law was a poor choice for a convention site, and they attacked the Marcos government for failure to provide the tight security it had promised.
This incident serves as another reminder that, as much as many travel agents, travel writers and tourists would like to view the world through rose-colored glasses, in recent years the possibility of violence directly or indirectly affecting travelers has regrettably been added to more prosaic fears about lost reservations, diarrhea, thefts and other rip-offs.
And it points up the increasing need for everyone connected with travel to "tell it like it is." A potential tourist should have sufficient facts about possible risks in order to be able to reach a decision based on personal evaluation. But if a destination is crossed off itineraries, the decision should be reviewed as a matter of fairness in light of later developments.
The ASTA leadership and the delegates, it should be noted, behaved under fire with calmness, courage and intelligence in Manilla. The agents will need all three attributes when they decide where to hold their future conventions. One of three possible choices being eyed for the 1982 session is Rome, Italy, which still draws happy tourists despite the predilection of terrorists for occasionally shooting the kneecaps of those they disagree with. And for 1983, ASTA's tentative choice is South Korea, which is currently under martial law. The agents will meet in Hawaii next year.
And speaking of countries with problems, tourism officials from Jamaica visited Washington and other U.S. cities recently to assure travel agents that the election of Prime Minister Edward Seaga will bring stability and peace to that economically-stricken Caribbean island.
Many agents, unable to ignore the tensions and political violence that surfaced with the bitter election campaign earlier this year, either failed to warmly recommend a sunny vacation in Jamaica, or cautioned their clients who were about to go about conditions there. The close relationship between Prime Minister Michael Manley (just defeated) and Cuba's Fidel Castro raised additional fears of increasing Communist influence in the Caribbean.
Partly for these reasons, and partly due to adverse publicity from media news coverage, Jamaican tourism had taken a severe nosedive during the past four months. In normal times tourism is the second or third major source of foreign exchange for the buffeted island, after bauxite and possibly after agriculture. (Prime Minister Seaga had candidly admitted that the illegal export of ganja -- marijuana -- has been Jamaica's leading unofficial and most vital source of earnings abroad during the recent crisis, a fact that does not please U.S. agencies trying to stem the influx of illegal drugs.)
But now there's good news from Jamaica, according to Heinz E. W. Simonitsch, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association, who is also the managing director of the Half Moon Club, a prime hotel in Montego Bay, and honorary consul in Kingston for his native Austria.
Tourism arrivals in 1979 were the highest in Jamaican history, and there were further gains in some visitor categories in the first six months of 1980, Simonitsch said. He was "very optimistic for the winter season." Reservations which had been canceled are being reconfirmed, he said, and despite the political upheaval millions of dollars have been spent on projects such as airport expansion, hotel construction, and a new water supply for Montego Bay.
Simonitsch acknowledge the extent of the reconstruction task facing Seaga, and maintained that white visitors, who comprise the majority of tourists, will not have any "racial" difficulties. "The Jamaican people have never rejected tourism," Simonitsch emphasized, drawing upon 17 years on the island as a resident businessman and non-citizen. "But the American tourist should not come with a chip on his shoulder and think that somebody black is going to be rude," he advised.
If you like tax deductions for "three-martini" business lunches, business entertainment expenses and conventions held abroad, and worry about your "freedom to travel," the election of Ronald Reagan may offer comforting support.
Shortly before President-elect Reagan's victory at the polls, a senior staff adviser met in Arlington with travel officials and provided Reagan's answers to a number of questions that have concerned the industry.
Reagan also gave his views on travel in a mailgram to Joel Abels, editor and publisher of Travel Trade Publications in New York. Additional explanatory comments were provided to the American Society of Travel Agents in a letter from Edwin J. Gray, deputy chief of staff and director of policy communications for the Reagan-Bush Committee.
Though Congress had refused in recent years to approve legislative provisions that would have limited tax deductions for business lunches and other related expenses, the 1980 Democratic platform added a plank aimed at plugging what President Carter and others considered a privileged loophole.
It pledged "to seek tax reforms which [would] curb tax deductions, like those for three-martini lunches, conventions, first-class travel and other expense account deductions, which encourage consumption, discourage saving, and thus impede productivity."
Edwin Meese, Reagan's transition director, referred to that platform plank during his discussion with travel officials and assured them that the Reagan administration would oppose such legislation.
Reagan, in his mailgram, stated, "With respect to proposals intended to discourage American corporations from holding conventions outside the United States, my general approach is that such decisions should be left in the hands of the companies themselves. . ."
And Gray wrote to ASTA that "Governor Reagan recognizes and appreciates the tremendous role played by the travel and tourism industry in our economy . . . The most effective way to help the industry is to provide an economic climate conducive to travel and tourism . . . A consistent, multifaceted energy policy would enable Americans to conserve fuel, yet have their basic tourism and recreational needs satisfied."