by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, June 24 (Xinhua) -- Rose Zhang, who works for a large company in the Washington, D.C. area, intended to take a road trip to several smaller cities in the American South, but her plans were shelved due to the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and weeks of nationwide protests against police brutality.
Recent weeks have seen protests in more than 700 U.S. cities over the police killing of unarmed African American man George Floyd. While many of the protests were peaceful, some others saw rioters unleash destruction and violence.
At the same time, demonstrators are calling to defund police, and some have taken over resident areas. A neighborhood in downtown Seattle, once a laid-back town in the Pacific Northwest, was taken over by protesters, who renamed it the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.
The timing could not be worse for the U.S. travel industry. Cities are starting to open up after being forced to shutter amid the pandemic, which has caused untold economic damage to restaurants and hotels.
Many Americans, cooped up at home for months, are ready and willing to travel within the United States, just for a change of scenery. Now they are wondering whether cities are safe, at a time when politicians and lawmakers in Washington seem unwilling to quell the chaos.
Travelers are faced with two questions. Do they feel safe while the coronavirus is still out there? And do they feel safe from violence?
Zhang said that in general she is not worried about the virus.
"Under caution I feel safe by staying in hotels with solid reputation and cleaning standards. And there are less people traveling now," Zhang told Xinhua.
Asked about whether she feels safe traveling amid the threat of riots, looting and violence, she said she feels "safe to travel in the U.S. but would avoid downtown areas."
Others, however, do not feel safe. A man who identified himself only as Mark, told Xinhua he is reluctant to travel in the United States, for fear of encountering angry demonstrators. He also fears for the safety of his dog, with whom he'd like to travel, as his pet pooch could be in danger of injury or death if the pair encountered the wrong protesters.
Indeed, U.S. travel spending has plunged this year, according to the U.S. Travel Association, which represents an industry worth 2.6 trillion U.S. dollars and 15.8 million American jobs.
The organization reported earlier this month that total U.S.-based travel spending is predicted to drop 45 percent by this year's end, prompting calls for federal measures to support the industry that was one of the top U.S. employers prior to the pandemic.
Total domestic trips taken by U.S. residents are expected to fall 30 percent from last year to 1.6 billion - the lowest figure since 1991, the organization reported.
With safety worries over traveling in the United States, some Americans are looking to travel overseas.
But there is much confusion among Americans seeking to vacation abroad, regarding what countries are allowing Americans inside their borders and whether they will be quarantined upon arrival.
Mark complained that many countries in Asia and Europe are not forthcoming about such questions - they are not posting information on their travel bureaus' websites, for example.
Mark, who works in advertising in the D.C. area, was ready in March to take a trip to Southeast Asia, at the onset of the global lockdown, but said countries were not posting enough information online for potential tourists. That made him cancel his plans.
Mark has no plans to travel anywhere right now, but is checking out various deals in a bid to take a trip once the restrictions are lifted.
Zhang is now looking to vacation abroad, and is considering Greece as a travel destination.
Tyson Dalwart, an American who was working in Vietnam as a personal trainer when the virus hit, soon found he was out of a job when the country went on lockdown, and had to return to the United States.