As the US moves to criminalise abortion across many states, is it possible that the Roe vs Wade decision could affect tourism recovery in America?
Would you travel to the US right now? And, specifically, would you travel to states that immediately banned abortion after the Supreme Court’s shock decision on Roe vs Wade last week?
It’s a question that would have seemed ridiculous just 12 months ago. This is the land of pool parties and grand landscapes. A melting pot of cultures and an icon of the big screen.
But when the US overturned the historic ruling that protected abortion rights under Federal law, it sparked unpleasant fireworks and raised red flags.
According to the Guardian tracker, six US states - South Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Alabama - have already outright banned abortion.
Another 12 are soon to ban it or impose severe restrictions, and abortion rights are threatened in a further 12 states. It is estimated that more than half of US states will move to ban abortion in the coming months.
The question of travelling to the US is relevant to pregnant women who may now struggle to get medical care if they experience a miscarriage abroad - mirroring the case of the American woman in Malta who last week was refused an emergency procedure because of Malta’s strict anti-abortion laws.
But it’s also a discussion for those who want to stand in solidarity with the almost 40 million women living in US states where abortion rights are now banned or threatened.
Should travellers consider boycotting the US?
Within hours of the Roe vs Wade announcement on Friday, private travel journalist forums started to discuss the ethics of promoting travel to states such as Missouri that moved to make abortion illegal as soon as the announcement was made public.
But is it an overreaction to think that some travellers might strike the US - or certain states - off their holiday lists altogether?
“I think boycotting travel is a personal choice,” says Alessandra Alonso, the founder of Women in Travel CIC, a social enterprise that offers mentorship and training to get women into roles in travel.
“On the one hand it is a way of expressing our outrage for this erosion of women’s rights and our solidarity for those impacted.
“But, on the other, there is of course a view that boycotting impacts the wrong people the hardest - the communities that need the tourist dollar - more than the people that have imposed these abhorrent rules.”
It’s likely that any tangible backlash against the US’s betrayal of abortion rights could take months to gain traction. Or it could just be that travellers won’t connect the dots.
“I don’t really think this is on customers’ radar when travelling for tourism at the moment - although of course this may change,” says Emma Savage, a UK-based business and leisure travel agent who also runs the YouTube channel, Emma’s Travel Talk.
Savage adds that so far she hasn’t seen any impact on demand for US holidays since the overturning of Roe vs Wade, or from customers booked to travel there wishing to amend their trip itineraries.
However, domestic politics has been known to affect travel to the US in the past. In 2018, several US media outlets, including NBC News, reported a ‘Trump slump’.
The unpopular president was blamed for a tourism downturn that was estimated to cost the country more than $4 billion in lost spending and around 40,000 jobs.
How important is tourism to the US’s post-pandemic recovery?
Travel and tourism represents a huge industry for the US. In 2019, the US received almost 80 million international visitors.
By 2032 this sector could represent almost 10 per cent of the US economy, according to the latest Economic Impact Report from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
The country has had a faltering relationship with inbound travel since the pandemic, but the WTTC forecast in June that travel and tourism will inject up to $2.6 billion into the US economy in the next 10 years.
Which tourist hotspots could be affected by reduced appetite for US travel?
Many of the US’s most popular tourist destinations are in the East and West Coast blue belts, around San Francisco and New York City. These pro-choice states are unlikely to be affected by any fall-out from the Roe vs Wade ruling.
But there are many popular tourist attractions within the boundaries of states that are threatening abortion bans.
Utah’s Bryce Canyon, for example, is visited by around 5 million tourists a year. Texas – the state that’s home to the slogan ‘Keep Austin Weird’ – is famous the world over for its barbecue. The Louisiana party city of New Orleans, known for its annual Mardi Gras, receives almost 20 million visitors alone a year.
All three of these states are among the 12 poised to criminalise abortion.
Women in Travel’s Alonso says, “It is likely some people will choose not to spend their holidays in states that are imposing abortion bans, just as we see people choosing not to travel to Russia in solidarity with Ukraine, or other places around the world for their violation of human rights, whether it be towards women or the LGBTQ+ community, for example.”
The wider travel implications of Roe vs Wade
It’s possible the ruling could impact not just leisure travel, but business and events travel too. Jill Filipovic, a lawyer based in Brooklyn, NYC, took to Twitter on the day of the Roe ruling with an important message.
“Companies cannot require workers to be in-person in states that restrict abortion rights,” she wrote on Substack. “And no company should hold an event or conference in a state that limits the right to abortion.”
She added that sports teams and musicians should also stop asking their fans to travel to these states.
“Everything from the Kentucky Derby to the Masters to the Superbowl draw huge crowds - and will bring tens or even hundreds of thousands of people to states that now outlaw abortion, and, as a result, put people’s lives and freedoms at risk,” she reasoned.
Filipovic was clear that she’s not advocating for a total boycott of anti-abortion states, but added, “I will be very hesitant to spend my money in places that treat women as second-class citizens.”