We be­lieve in travel free­dom

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Eben Peck Eben Peck is se­nior vice pres­i­dent for gov­ern­ment and public af­fairs for the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Travel Agents.

Our hearts go out to the fam­ily and friends of Otto Warm­bier, whose death shortly af­ter re­turn­ing from cap­tiv­ity in North Korea has led to an un­der­stand­able de­bate over whether Amer­i­cans should be al­lowed to travel to that coun­try. But the wis­dom of trav­el­ing to po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous des­ti­na­tions is separate and dis­tinct from the is­sue of whether the U.S. gov­ern­ment should be able to con­trol where its cit­i­zens can and can­not go.

We be­lieve in the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of travel free­dom, and that our gov­ern­ment should not be in the busi­ness of telling Amer­i­cans where to travel or not travel. Though his­tor­i­cally ex­pressed in the con­text of whether our cit­i­zens should be able to travel to Cuba, the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Travel Agents (ASTA) has long be­lieved the Amer­i­can peo­ple are the best am­bas­sadors of U.S. val­ues abroad, and should be al­lowed to freely travel to any des­ti­na­tion they wish with­out re­stric­tion from their own gov­ern­ment.

Not­with­stand­ing the unique risks of trav­el­ing to North Korea, it’s a slip­pery slope to ban travel to des­ti­na­tions whose gov­ern­ments we dis­agree with or in re­sponse to tragic events. This is not to say the gov­ern­ment shouldn’t pro­vide guid­ance in terms of the risks of cer­tain des­ti­na­tions. In fact, the State De­part­ment does a fan­tas­tic job of is­su­ing travel warn­ings, alerts and other guid­ance with re­spect to vir­tu­ally every coun­try on earth. Our travel agents rely heav­ily on these re­sources when ad­vis­ing their clients where to go, or not to go. But again, we would draw a dis­tinc­tion be­tween pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tional re­sources to help trav­el­ers make these de­ci­sions and flat-out ban­ning travel to cer­tain des­ti­na­tions.

ASTA does not rec­om­mend, pro­mote or sug­gest that Amer­i­cans con­sider trav­el­ing to North Korea. It does, how­ever, be­lieve it should be up to in­di­vid­ual trav­el­ers to es­tab­lish their tol­er­ance for risk, and that in­formed travel de­ci­sions be left to in­di­vid­u­als, uti­liz­ing the tools and in­for­ma­tion made avail­able by the U.S gov­ern­ment and their trusted travel ad­viser.

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