Arne M. Sorenson is president and chief executive of Marriott International.
Ever since I was a kid, people have been talking about how the world is getting smaller and more interconnected. Not so long ago, traveling to see world-famous sights and experience different cultures was an opportunity reserved largely for the elite. Today, middle-class families around the world journey to places their ancestors could only have dreamed of visiting.
There have been stops and starts along the way, but it has long felt as though, together, we have been pushing in the direction of more openness, understanding and hospitality toward each other.
So it’s alarming, to say the least, to watch as some people try to capitalize on fears of terrorism by proposing remarkably bad ideas that would turn back the clock on this progress, including banning millions from traveling to the United States because they belong to a certain faith.
While fear is understandable given the backdrop of terrorism — especially the recent attacks in Paris, Indonesia, and San Bernardino, Calif. — it is nonsense to direct that fear into a generalized hostility toward Muslims. It goes against what we stand for in the United States, a nation of immigrants and tolerance. By fanning the flames of hatred, it makes us not more safe but much more at risk.
Instead of falling for the superficial appeal of the politics of exclusion and hate, governments should use this moment to work together to enhance security while easing the burdens and costs for most who want to travel. For far too long, we have relied on a legacy system of state-issued passports and visas to determine an individual’s eligibility to travel.
This system hasn’t changed much since I received my first passport in 1958, when I was born in Japan to American parents. Or course, we now have more information about applicants for passports and visas, but that information is seldom shared easily among governments. A labyrinth of rules and regulations and differing data-collection systems hinders our ability to exchange information in real time. Today’s challenges simply cannot be met by yesterday’s bureaucratic systems.
This year, more than a billion international trips will be taken worldwide. With the rising middle classes of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America eager to travel, these numbers are expected to grow by nearly 5 percent annually, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that many new travelers put the United States and Europe highest on their lists of places to see. Their visits are good for local economies — and for my company, of course — and they are also good for creating stronger bonds among peoples around the world.
The good news is that we have better technology and access to more sophisticated tools than before. Governments have the means to share security information and data across borders, and it is that cooperation that will create the next generation of travel: an integrated network of governments and trusted travelers.
We have seen success in recent years with visa agreements between countries and other programs intended to streamline the various bureaucracies, such as TSA Precheck and Global Entry, that offer pre-approval for low-risk travelers.
By scaling up these concepts and applying them to broader populations, we can create a truly modern system. All travelers might apply for a form of global access and submit information as determined by the participating governments, including through a background check and personal interview. If a person is permitted into the program, he or she then would enjoy visa-free travel and an expedited travel experience among partner countries. Security would be enhanced because we would know more about those people and have verified their trusted status, and because governments could redeploy resources to focus on the few who might pose real threats. The traveler would get a smoother process.
Our best defense against the true threats, and our own fears, is to confront them with a united front of coordination and cooperation. Reacting to fear with misguided policies that indiscriminately close borders or target groups of people harms our economies and societies and breeds more mistrust. Let’s not fall for the twisted arguments of those who sow hatred.
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