SOURCE: USA TODAY •
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BERLIN — Government travel advisories are common for war-torn, disease-ravaged nations, but a growing number of countries are warning their citizens about taking trips to the United States.
The United Arab Emirates, Bahamas, France, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Germany are among those urging caution to U.S.-bound travelers. The concerns include mass shootings, police violence, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT attitudes and the Zika virus.
While it is too soon to determine if the warnings are hurting U.S. tourism, the warnings tarnish the image the U.S. promotes abroad of a country that prides itself on being a welcoming society and bastion of democracy.
“People understand that there is a range of things to do and iconic things to see in the (United) States,” said Tom Buncle, managing director of the Yellow Railroad, an international tourism consultancy in Scotland. “But all of the warnings that come from specific instances add up and can potentially erode the positive image of the U.S.”
Tourism consultant Buncle said the warnings about gays and Muslims may deter some from taking U.S. vacations. “If you are in any of those groups, … you might feel threatened because of the color of your skin or sexual orientation,” he said.
Foreign tourism to the U.S. is lucrative. An estimated 77 million foreigners visited the United States last year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. They contributed $218 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the State Department.
Countries such as the U.K. have added the U.S. — the state of Florida in particular — to the list of countries where travelers face a “moderate risk” of catching the Zika virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a warning this month about an outbreak of the virus in a Florida county north of Miami from local mosquitoes. In Texas, the first Zika-related death of a baby was reported Tuesday.
European governments have warned about a spate of gun violence in the U.S., including June’s mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub that left 49 dead, and the murders of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge in July.
The French government’s travel advice website informs citizens that it is legal for many Americans to carry firearms. Germany warns: “It is relatively easy to obtain a firearm in the U.S. If you find yourself the victim of a gun attack, do not try to resist!”
Xenophobia is another worry. The UAE released a travel advisory in July urging men not to wear traditional clothing after a citizen was tackled to the ground and injured by police in Ohio. Officers had been alerted by hotel staff who feared the businessman’s robe and headscarf indicated terrorist intentions.
In August, a Muslim couple was removed from a Delta Airlines flight from Paris to Cincinnati after a flight crew member complained to the pilot that she was uncomfortable with the couple. The woman, who called the ordeal “humiliating,” was wearing a head scarf and using a phone, and the man was sweating, the crew member told the pilot.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s repeated calls for a temporary travel ban on foreign Muslims and people from countries where terrorist groups operate has added to the woes of would-be visitors.
In other countries, police shootings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota last month sparked serious concern.
“In particular young males are asked to exercise extreme caution in affected cities in their interactions with the police. Do not be confrontational and cooperate,” said a travel warning issued July 8 by the Bahamas Foreign Ministry.
The UAE and its Middle East neighbor, Bahrain, issued advisories after the fatal shooting of five police officers in Dallas on July 9.
“For your own safety … please stay away from any ongoing or planned demonstrations and protests in cities around the United States,” the UAE embassy in Washington said. “Please be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid crowded places when possible.”
Britain’s Foreign Office earlier this year issued specific advice to LGBT travelers heading to the U.S. It references laws passed in North Carolina and Mississippi aimed at prohibiting transgender people from using public bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.
“The U.S. is an extremely diverse society and attitudes towards LGBT people differ hugely across the country,” adds the website, which also includes a link where British citizens can change the gender listed on their passports.
Despite statistics showing a minuscule chance of dying in a mass shooting, gun violence worries would-be travelers.
“They need to get rid of their guns,” said Tina Müller, 54, of Berlin, who said she had no plans to visit the U.S. soon. “It would solve a lot of their problems. We have racism and prejudice in Europe, but we don’t have mass shootings and violence on that level.”
Despite the travel advisories, “the United States remains a first-rate tourist destination,” said Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department. “We value the enormous economic benefit that foreign tourists bring to the United States each year.”