When two employees at Portland’s DoubleTree Hotel decided they had the authority to remove a guest for “loitering” in a public area, they not only obliterated their property’s reputation but demonstrated why tourism to the United States is on the decline.
In the era of Donald Trump, America is not only perceived as unwelcoming, it’s no longer seen as cool. That diminution in status is clearly affecting its brand.
Destinations such as Spain, which saw its foreign tourism arrivals increase 32.7 percent in 2017, according to statistics from the U.S. Travel Association, are perceived as far more attractive. In fact, of the leading destinations in the world, only two countries saw a decline in tourism in 2017: the United States and Turkey. The decline in Turkey is largely attributable to a response from the travel industry following terror attacks that spurred many cruise companies to drop the nation from their itineraries.
The fall in the U.S. is often blamed on Trump. In 2015, a record 77.4 million people entered the United States as tourists. Tourism, which is the country’s second-largest export industry, has slumped every year since, dropping more than 6 percent since Trump was elected in 2016. That shrinkage equates to tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue.
The episode this week at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Portland won’t help reverse the trend, even if the hotel has fired the employees involved. News of a black man who was a paying guest being escorted out of the hotel by police, while under the threat of arrest, has again put racism in America in the headlines. The 34-year-old man, Jermaine Massey, posted a video on Instagram of his ordeal. Not surprisingly, the images of a gangly old white security guard named Earl Meyers hovering over Massey while he was trying to have a cellphone conversation with his mother exploded on social media.
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Tonight I was racially profiled and discriminated against for taking a phone call in the lobby of my hotel room at the @doubletreepdx @doubletree. The security guard “Earl” decided that he would call the police on me, the exact reason is still unclear to me. He said that I was a safety threat to the other guests and that I was trespassing and said that I was a disturbance because I took a personal phone call from my mom in a more remote area of the lobby. The manager who actually called the cops, “Luis” actually asked me AFTER he called the cops, what happened? They already had in their minds that they didn’t want me there so I waited for the cops to show up and when they did, I explained my side of the story and they didn’t want to hear it. They asked me if I had personal items in my room (which of course I did) and asked me to go retrieve them. They told me that since the hotel requested me to leave, that if I didn’t I would be considered a trespasser and would be thrown in jail. I complied and cooperated and was not issued a refund for my room. I packed my stuff and went to another hotel. I cannot believe the level of professionalism that this hotel property had with me tonight. It is never ok to discriminate against guests for the color of their skin and to prejudge them based on your own bias against that race. Earl is a disgrace, calls himself a man but calls the Portland Police Dept on a man who was minding his own business in the lobby of his hotel. I had my hotel key in my hand the entire conversation, he knew I was a guest. He wanted to prove a point and did it in the worst way. Not really shocked that this happened but just extremely disappointed. I will be seeking justice. Believe that. @doubletree @doubletreepdx @hiltonhonors #hilton #hiltonhotels #racism #racisminamerica #racismisreal @shaunking
The incident irrevocably taints that particular hotel. But its ramifications reach further. Hilton Hotels, the parent of DoubleTree, has also endured a social-media backlash because of the actions of Meyers and a front-desk employee named Luis. Portland, a city that has successfully branded itself as less-American (re: more liberal and eccentric) than other places, takes a hit, too. Inevitably, several people watching Massey’s video will conclude Portland is “just like anywhere else” in the U.S., and that’s a deeply damaging outcome for a destination that has worked hard to distinguish itself in a crowded tourism marketplace. And, in the larger picture, the images of white men in uniform looking down at a black man as they confront him without explaining why they’re doing so will pin America as out of step with the times.
Some parts of the world are moving toward post-racial societies: Urban environments where a heterogenous mix leads to collaborations that inspire fresh ideas in art, cuisine and music. America, too often, seems stuck in the mid-20th century. As more viral videos are posted of black men and women being harassed simply because their darkness makes a few of those who are less dark skittish and fearful, the world watches and shakes its head.
I visited the United States twice this year. Once to New York, where I lived for 10 years and maintain connections, and once to Oregon, where I explored the state’s exceptional wine country and spent a day in downtown Portland, enjoying the eclectic public market and funky shops. Massey’s video won’t deter me from returning, because I’ve experienced Portland and know its character doesn’t align with the behavior of the two DoubleTree employees, but others who haven’t visited will certainly question whether it’s the place for their next vacation. And when I think about my future travel plans, I resist the lure of many parts of the U.S., no matter how close it is to my home in Vancouver, British Columbia, or what incentives are presented to tempt Canadian travelers to venture south.
Like many others who have been making their vacation decisions in recent years, I ask the same question Massey did on the night of December 22, “Why?”
He wanted to know why he was harassed. After seeing what he endured, potential travelers to the U.S. like me are likely to query, “Why would I want to go to a place like that?”
Many millions around the globe are saying, I wouldn’t.