By Allison Schult
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder in an endless sea of country music fans on day two of the four-day Carolina Country Music Festival in Myrtle Beach, I was enjoying a cold one as I tapped my bootheels to the bluesy, honky-tonk rhythms of Randy Houser. Having traveled near and far over the years to see Randy on multiple occasions in a variety of venues, nothing was going to keep me from seeing my friend give another mesmerizing and powerful performance.
As the crowds swelled to 31,000 people under a menacing sky of rain clouds on that Friday night in June, a thought flashed through my mind, “Are we safe?” It wasn’t the weather I was confronting but the ripple effect of horrific gun violence during festivals where locals and visitors have come together to celebrate and connect.
Festivals and events are the seeds to economic growth and prosperity for countless communities across the country—from sustainable gatherings like the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, which has served up garlicky gourmet food, family fun, and live entertainment for 80,000-100,000 attendees, to the popular Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, which was situated on a repurposed parking lot amidst the neon lights of towering casinos. This festival purportedly was an overnight success and annual slumber party for thousands of country music fans until 2017, when it became the site of the worst shooting in modern U.S. history.
Today, four in 10 Americans fear gun violence in public places and this summer’s rise and frequency in mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton, and Odessa have made many Millennial concert-goers more frightened and anxious about rocking out at music festivals than any FOMO-by-staying-home ever could.
Safety is top of mind among all American travelers. According to the 2019-20 Portrait of American Travelers study, 88% of travelers ranked safety above other desirable destination features (historical sites, beach or lake experiences, outdoor adventure, festivals and the performing arts) when choosing a place to visit. As the chart indicates, safety consideration is up most significantly among Millennials when deciding where to go on their next trip. Gun violence is likely to impact international travel to the U.S. as well. Following the Dayton shooting, which occurred just 13 hours after the El Paso incident, Amnesty International, Japan, Uruguay, and Venezuela all issued travel warnings to the United States.
Relative to the Middle East and Europe, the U.S. has enjoyed freedom from international terrorist attacks on American soil. It’s been 18 years since our great nation was devastated by 9/11. However, we’ve been plagued by a form of domestic terrorism—mass shooters inciting fear and hysteria in order to get attention.
Is genuine human connection in America dwindling?
Social media platforms meant to connect us often leave users feeling less connected and more isolated. Advances in technology that provide convenience in our daily lives have eliminated much of the contact we had with real people. Interacting with another human has become downright uncomfortable for many people—causing stress and anxiety. Our children would rather text than have a conversation.
As our nation continues to debate gun control, I take note of my father’s philosophy towards medicine—treat the cause rather than the symptom. What are the root causes for why mass shooters carry out attacks on defenseless people? This study funded by the National Institute of Justice reveals these similarities among the shooters:
1. The vast majority experienced childhood trauma or exposure to violence at an early age.
2. Nearly every mass shooter reached an identifiable crisis point in the weeks or months leading up to the shooting.
3. Most studied the actions of other shooters and sought external validation for their motives.
4. They had the means to carry out their plans, either by purchasing or borrowing their weaponry.
Nearly every one of these triggers involved, or offered the opportunity for, connecting with another individual either directly or indirectly—connections that, perhaps had they been handled differently, might have deterred the shooter from moving forward with their deranged, violent plans. Meanwhile, individuals at-risk of venturing down the slippery slope of harming others seemingly embrace the alienation prevalent in our society and use it as an excuse to further detach and descend into a dark abyss.
Outgunned in an Experiential Economy? Travel More.
We live in an experiential economy in which experiences are sold like goods and services by emphasizing the effect and underscoring the value they have on people’s lives. Experiential buying enhances social relations, plays a bigger role in defining our identities and passions, and helps us see the world with new eyes—especially when we expand our horizons via travel.
If we stop traveling because we are afraid, the terrorist wins. Our economy suffers, but most importantly, society suffers. Connecting with one another is the glue that binds humanity. When we consume experiences directly with other people, those memories, according to Cornell professor Thomas Gilovich, become part of the stories and memories that are shared and retold to one another. They become part of our ethos. Numerous studies show that consumers derive more happiness and satisfaction from experiential purchases over buying stuff.
In the Travel Happiness Survey from AFAR, 61% of travelers say that “getting to know the locals” tends to make them the happiest when they travel—more than “meeting other travelers,” “unplugging and connecting with nature,” and “sharing my experiences with people at home.” The survey sites that traveling allows you to disconnect from technology and be completely present and attentive to those around you.
This week, Facebook sent me a notification that my husband and I have visited 200 places together since he and I became “friends” on the platform five years ago. Each of these trips, several of which were motivated by country music and live entertainment, serve as meaningful mile markers in our development not only as a couple but as human beings. The people we encountered and the cultures we experienced, touched our souls, expanded our appreciation of the world, and contributed to who we are.
My role as a professional in the travel industry is to make connections, create meaningful partnerships, and deliver positive results. My role as a human being is the same. So, over the next five years, I hope to double the number of places I visit so that I can turn more strangers into friends, more experiences into joyous memories, and ultimately contribute to a healthier and happier society. There’s more to the story, so let’s connect and start a conversation at firstname.lastname@example.org.