It’s Time To See the Sights Again, America

Recently, we got the welcome news that one of the most hallowed shrines of American pop culture, Graceland, Elvis Presley’s estate near Memphis, Tennessee, is once again open to visitors. Many other attractions will soon follow suit. 

This is a fabulous development for the millions of Americans who work in the tourism and hospitality industries, but more than that, it is food for America’s soul. After all, when we travel far from home we often find out who we truly are.

One of the most tragic aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that it has robbed people of aspects of their humanity. Grandparents have been separated from their grandkids. The dead have gone unmourned and sometimes unburied. The terminally ill, who have earned the right to live life to the fullest while it remains to them to do it, have been denied many of life’s pleasures, and most forms of interaction, just like the rest of us. Alcohol sales and suicides are through the roof. Neighbors, friends, and family have pitched in to help one another, yes, but they also have been trained by breathless, hysterical news reports to view one another as walking disease vectors. 

In short, we are arguably as isolated and alone as we have ever been.

The stake that the pandemic drove through the heart of the travel industry is no less regrettable. Tens of millions of Americans had planned to take road trips, to sip cocktails on white sandy beaches, to glory at museum exhibits, or to walk timeless, cobbled streets, only to learn that the coronavirus had other ideas. Our hopes and dreams flagged as travel, tourism, and hospitality stocks sunk ever lower.

Now, though, the tide has turned. It appears that both Europe and the United States are ready to get back in the business of welcoming visitors.

Consider these facts:

Road traffic in beach areas has tripled, as more and more Americans seek “fun in the sun.” Las Vegas casinos are set to reopen in early June. Universal Studios will be one of the first of Orlando’s theme parks to reopen on June 5. 

Throughout Europe, border closures are easing and international travel and tourism are experiencing a slow resurgence. Spain, one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe in terms of coronavirus mortality, may see its economy contract by 10 percent or more in 2020. With daily death figures tumbling, though, it plans to welcome international tourists again starting in June and July. 

Greece will allow international flights as of July 1 and will offer tax incentives to support the revival of tourism. Much will depend, however, on when individual countries decide to lift the requirement that foreign visitors self-quarantine.

Meanwhile, a consortium of Caribbean islands plans to welcome visitors from the United States and Europe starting in June. Summer camps for kids are tentatively resuming operations. The U.S. cruise industry hopes to recommence in August

All this comes as evidence mounts that the reopening of businesses, even restaurants and retail establishments, has not produced a discernible uptick in infections—despite the fact that testing is still ramping up. In other words, resuming some version of normal life does not have to mean a resurgence of the virus, so long as people and businesses exercise common sense in terms of social distancing, hygiene, and so forth.

What this means for travel and tourism is simple: bring it on! The time is now.

Americans should not hesitate to get in their cars for road trips—one of the best ways to travel while maintaining social distance. “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” Why not? 

Given the innumerable precautions that the airlines are taking, including operating at reduced capacity, we should not hesitate to fly, either. In fact, record-low fares make air travel especially attractive. 

Meanwhile, hotels and restaurants have taken up the call to promote social distancing and to improve sanitation. Truth be told, public areas in which large numbers of people gather were always potential hot spots for the transmission of diseases—even if before it was the flu or salmonella instead of COVID-19. Thanks to the unprecedented new focus on eliminating the risk of contagion, many of these venues are cleaner and safer now than ever before.

Personally, I plan to take my time exploring America’s highways and byways, and one of my first stops will be Graceland, which had the courage to lead the way in reopening America’s tourism industry. Later in the summer, when travel bans and harsh guidelines recede, I might visit Europe or go on a cruise.

You might ask: Won’t I fear for my life? No. Rationally, the risks are exceptionally low, especially for those who are not in vulnerable populations. Moreover, we can’t let the fear of death overwhelm our zest for life, as well as our neighborliness, our curiosity, and our openness to new experiences. These are the things, after all, that make life worth living.

Elvis, “the King,” said it best: “What’s the good of reaching 90, if you waste 89?”

I intend to experience all the world has to offer and to live to a ripe old age, and, despite what the doomsayers claim, there’s no reason to think I won’t.

What will your summer be like? Will it be dominated by fear, or by fun? 

It’s for you to decide.

About Nicholas L. Waddy

Nicholas L. Waddy, an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred, blogs at www.waddyisright.com.

Photo: Getty Images

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