By Kelly Monaghan
A recent opinion piece in Travel Weekly by Richard Turen bemoaned the fact that only 35% of Americans have a passport, in contrast to Canada, where 60% of citizens have a passport, and the United Kingdom, where 75% have one. That doesn’t sound good, does it? But read on.
The percentage of Americans with passports has risen in recent years but, as the author of the piece points out, this is largely due to the fact that passports are now required for visits to places like Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, where they were not before. In addition, all cruise lines now require passengers to carry a passport. So, to some extent at least the rise is artificial in that it doesn’t reflect a desire on the part of Americans to increase their foreign travel, but merely to maintain the foreign trips they were already taking.
Turen went on to describe his fellow citizens as “internationally uninterested” and concluded:
There is no evidence to suggest that the arrogance associated with those who wonder, “Why leave the U.S. when we’ve got everything here?” has in any way disappeared. We still stubbornly refuse to learn a second or third language. We still accept the fact that one can graduate high school in this country without ever engaging in the formal study of world geography. We still cling to the outmoded notion that we are the best at nearly everything.
Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. But rather than take a swipe at our potential clients, there are other lessons to be gleaned from the statistics that Turen cites.
Let’s look at the numbers. As Turen notes, 35% of the American population translates to 110 million passport holders. Canada has a population of 34 million, the UK 62 million. Simple arithmetic, then, tells us that 21 million Canadians have passports and 46.5 million Brits do. Which would you rather sell to, a market of 110 million travelers or one of 21 million?
But this is not a competition between nations. If you live in Canada, your are not going to be starving for customers. 21 million is a lot of people!
Now granted, not all of those 110 million US passport holders are living within easy commuting distance of your home-based travel agency. But plenty of them are. The point is, there are tons of folks out there who will benefit from the service the home-based travel agent provides. So, whatever your opinion or my opinion about the number of US passport holders may be (and personally I think those with no plans to travel to the wider world are missing out on a lot of joy), those opinions are pretty much beside the point. The percentage of passport holders in your country has very little to do with your ability to make a very good living because no matter how “small” it may be the number of people it represents is immense.
And let us not forget that Americans without passports can still travel — a lot. The 7,898-mile trip from New York to Hawaii doesn’t require a passport, while the 1,246-mile flight to Bermuda does.
If you have set your sights on specializing in a destination that requires a passport, like France or China, that decision may decrease your pool of prospects, but it makes finding them a lot easier.
The bottom line is this: The travel industry is robust and surprisingly immune to economic pressures. Don’t pay too much attention to the “small” number of Americans without passports. There are more than enough prospects out there — regardless of your specialty — to keep you busy. Keep your eyes on the prize.