Wednesday, 16 December 2020

The Amazing Race 32, Episode 10

Manila (Philippines) - New Orleans, LA (USA)

The Amazing Race 32 finished on the 50-yard line of the football field inside the New Orleans Superdome, with Will asking his partner James to marry him, and James saying, "Yes," immediately after they won the million-dollar prize for finishing first in this season of the reality-TV race around the world.

There's certainly an argument that if you can stay in love through a trip around the world, you can stay in love for a lifetime. It doesn't always work out that way, though: One of my friends who met their spouse while travelling has finally concluded that it just doesn't work when they aren't travelling together, and is getting divorced. Travel can stress test a relationship, but many couples have discovered in recent months that "sheltering in place together" can also stress test a relationship. The takeaway, I think, is that life on the road is not the same as life "at home", whatever that means, and neither is a good test of the other.

With the winners of this season moving on to marriage, where does that leave The Amazing Race?

The cast of "The Amazing Race 33" had been selected and filming had begun with two legs in England and Scotland in early 2020. But filming was suspended and the cast and crew were brought home to the USA early in the novel coronavirus outbreak. Like many real-world travel planners, the TV producers say they have postponed, rather than cancelled, their travel plans, and will resume filming of the race, with the same cast, starting from the same place where they broke off, as soon as that can be done safely (whenever that may be).

I suspect that once it is filmed, the next season of The Amazing Race will be rushed through post-production and broadcast as soon as possible. Once travel around the world is considered safe again, there will be both a surge of pent-up demand for travel and a flood of advertisements from travel companies that have struggled not to go bankrupt and that will be competing desperately for their share of the first infusion of post-pandemic travel spending. As soon as it is safe to film and safe to travel, "The Amazing Race 33" will be an extremely hot property in the ad sales market, the more so the more quickly after it's safe to travel it can be put on the air.

But what about travel in the meantime? And what about New Orleans?

While the countries most dependent on tourism are mostly small island nations, especially in the Caribbean, Pacific, and Indian Ocean, New Orleans is one of the most tourism-dependent of large US cities, along with Orlando, Las Vegas, and Honolulu. New Orleans is the poorest of those cities, overall, with the lowest wage scale, so the impact is especially likely to put a larger portion of impacted people and families below the survival line. And tourism to New Orleans is driven by conventions, parties (James and Will are planning a destination wedding in New Orleans, although they haven't set the date yet), and the cruise port -- all sectors which have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, and for which the effects are likely to be longer-term than some other travel segments.

So New Orleans is a good place to think about the future of travel and the relationship between paying guests and paid hosts, during the pandemic and after.

It's not yet safe to travel, but too many people are travelling anyway. I'm not talking about people who "need" to travel to keep essential infrastructure working, but people who are travelling for purely social or recreational purposes, or for reasons related to inessential businesses not needed to provide or transport food, shelter, health care, or other necessary goods or services.

Several understandable but ultimately dangerous fallacies underlie their thinking.

Some people mistakenly equate "harm reduction" with "safety", and think that because they are following all available advice for travelling as safely as possible, they can travel safely. As one traveller put it to travel journalist Christoper Elliott, "I feel as though the CDC advice can be safely ignored because I practice social distancing." But the CDC advice is not to travel if you can because travel during this pandemic is inherently dangerous, even if you practice social distancing and take other precautions to reduce the likely harm to yourself and others.

Notice that I said, "and others". A second fallacy is that it's OK to choose discretionary travel if we are willing to take the risks. But the risks of travel during the pandemic are that we might be infected and asymptomatic (perhaps since we were last tested, even if we were tested recently) or that we might become infected while travelling. In either case, we could infect others including (1) vulnerable people for whom the risk is greater than it is for ourselves, (2) people for whom travel really is essential (for themselves or others) and thus who don't have a choice about our proximity and the risk it brings, and (3) people who earn their living providing services to travellers, and who are being given no other choices -- at least in the USA -- than to risk their lives to do this work to have money for food, housing, and other essentials.

If we choose to travel, we are choosing to impose potentially life-or-death risks on other people who didn't get to make a choice about whether to assume those risks. That's a very different thing than choosing to engage in activities that pose risks only to ourselves.

This is actually the case with respect to more travel activities than we realize. Backcountry skiers, downhill skateboarders, or people who choose to participate in other "extreme" or adventure sports and travel activities may think about whether they are willing to take the risk of a fall, but may not think about the risks their choices impose, especially if they misjudge their skill or the dangerousness of their activities in unfamiliar conditions, on ski patrollers, search-and-rescue workers, or other first responders and the like.

This analysis also applies to many pandemic-time choices closer to home as well. Paying a shopping service to deliver our groceries doesn't reduce the total risk of disease transmission. It just shifts most of the risk from ourselves to the person we pay to go into the grocery store for us. The ethical tradeoff is similar to that of hiring a substitute to fight for us in time of war, as once was possible for people drafted into the U.S. Army.

A third fallacy is that, by travelling, we might be "helping" people in the places we go, or who work in the travel industry, by creating or sustaining jobs that will enable them to buy food and pay for shelter and other essential goods and services.

That's the argument being made by the owners of travel companies so desperate to avoid corporate bankruptcy (even if corporate bankruptcies wouldn't endanger their personal financial security or physical safety) that they are willing to sacrifice the lives of travellers and travel workers alike.

Perhaps the clearest statement of this immoral argument is a joint statement issued this week by a coalition of travel industry trade associations and lobbying groups including the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), Airports Council International (ACI), World Economic Forum (WEF), and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC):

"Vaccines... must not be a requirement to travel as this will further delay the revival of the already ailing Travel & Tourism sector, which needs to restart now to save itself, millions of jobs in the sector and beyond, and the global economy. Getting people back to work will also provide enormous health benefits to those around the world, whose livelihoods have been affected by the devastating COVID-19 pandemic."

The imperative language of "must" and "needs" is used to put "the global economy" above debate, and to put the needs of an economically "ailing" business sector ahead of the needs of people who are ailing and more than a million of whom around the world have already died.

The death of an "ailing" company doesn't mean the death of its (former) employees. As I've noted previously, bankruptcies of travel companies won't necessarily lead to loss of jobs, depending on who buys the properties at the bankruptcy auctions and how they are repurposed -- perhaps for more labor-intensive uses. The costs of corporate bankruptcies are borne by owners, banks, and other investors -- those who can best afford them without being placed at risk of hunger or homelessness.

But the more important flaw in the argument that travel is the best way to "help" workers is that it assumes that the only possible way to transfer money is in exchange for work. What happened to public services? Charity? Human rights? A social safety net? Why can't we imagine the possibility of transferring money or providing services (food, shelter, health care, etc.) to those who need these things now, without requiring a simultaneous quid pro quo of labor?

It should be obvious that the industry claim that, "Getting people back to work will also provide enormous health benefits to those around the world whose livelihoods have been affected" is as nonsensical as it would be to claim that being forced back into dangerous workplaces would have "health benefits" for ourselves or any other workers. What would travel company executives, bankers, and other investors -- who are, I presume, working from home themselves -- think if we told them that it would have "health benefits" for them to go back into an office -- not a private office in the executive suite but a crowded open-plan bullpen with a constant procession of vendors and other visitors -- and that they didn't deserve a continued income or food or housing if they weren't wiling to do so?

Governments could -- and some do, although not in the USA -- pay survival stipends to those who need them to be able to afford not to work, if their usual work is (1) inessential and (2) can't be done without increasing the risks of infecting themselves and others. That certainly describes most jobs providing services to travellers.

Travelling and hoping that some of your spending will "trickle down" to the workers who serve you directly (and who are the ones most placed at risk of COVID-19 by doing those jobs) is a very inefficient way to transfer money to those in need. The most urgent need of furloughed workers in tourism or any other industry sector isn't "jobs". It's food, shelter, and health care -- or money to pay for them.

On a larger social scale that doesn't depend on private charity to meet human needs, tell Congress to send money to furloughed workers to enable them to stay home, and to fund services for the hungry and unhoused, not to bail out banks and investors in travel businesses in the hope that some of that money will trickle down to needy workers.

On a smaller scale, if you are thinking about end-of-the year charitable donations and you want to support laid-off hotel and restaurant workers in New Orleans while there are no conventions, cruise ship departures, or party-weekend tourists, consider staying home and donating some or all of the money you would have spent on your trip to a food bank, soup kitchen or shelter in New Orleans. If you want to help workers at your favorite restaurants, stay safe by staying home and send those workers a donation of some of the money you would have spent by eating out, to help them also stay safe by staying home and out of a crowded kitchen where COVID-19 could easily spread. If you like to eat, send some money to a free clinic that serves field workers in the Central Valley who aren't eligible for Obamacare because they are undocumented. I've made a $1,000 year-end donation to the Central Valley Mutual Aid Relief Fund, which prioritizes survival grants to people who don't qualify for government or other relief programs.

We'll all be safer and more likely to survive this pandemic if -- for now -- we stay home, stay as safe as possible, and work to make it possible for those who make our travel possible by providing travel services to also stay safely at home.

Bon voyage -- but not until after the pandemic!

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 16 December 2020, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
Comments

"Like many real-world travel planners, the TV producers say they have postponed, rather than cancelled, their travel plans, and will resume filming of the race, with the same cast, starting from the same place where they broke off, as soon as that can be done safely (whenever that may be)."

One of those Racer pairs was a dating couple (from another CBS reality TV show) who have since broken up. I wonder how the Race will handle it if this couple - or any other - chooses not to return? I guess they'd have to make one of the future legs a non-elimination leg that wasn't supposed to have been.

I have no idea what kind of insurance the Race production has, but if one is unable or unwilling to continue a trip (especially one that's going around the world), it'd be nice to have personal travel insurance, or at the very least confirm what kind of insurance you already have via the credit card you booked the reservations with.

Posted by: MRG, 20 December 2020, 21:22 ( 9:22 PM)
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