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The Politics of Tourism: A Strategic Approach for DMOs

Updated: Jul 1


Carl Ribaudo for Insights Collective




At no time in recent years has the country been as divided as it is now. Who would have ever believed that political and social issues could divide the country to the level it has? In many areas, these issues have impacted the individual level; friends and families have broken up, and the country is split between blue and red states. In addition, critical social issues have become part of consumer purchase decisions. In some cases, consumers and different groups have organized and used boycotts as tools to impact consumer decision-making.

While DMOs have paid much attention to consumer segments, demographics, psychographic profiles, and consumer personas to develop targeted messages incentivizing consumers to visit, scant attention has been paid to the influence of social issues and a destination's perceived political orientation in destination selection. In the Travel Analytic Group Study “The Influence of Social Issues and Political Orientation in Destination Selection,” we found the following results from survey respondents

·         Visit places that welcome people from all over the world 50.9%

·         Visit places that practice environmental Stewardship 49.4%

·         Avoid places with visible homeless populations 30.7%

·         Visit LGBTQ-friendly places 37.5%

·         Visit Places aligned with my political positions or values 28%

The political orientation of a destination within the United States significantly influences people's decision to visit. This essay explores the impact of political orientation on travelers' choice of destinations within the United States. By examining examples from various states, we will analyze how political factors such as governance, policy priorities, and cultural values can shape tourists' perceptions and impact their decision-making process.

  1. Policy Priorities and Tourist Appeal The political orientation of a destination can shape its policy priorities, which, in turn, impact its attractiveness to tourists. For example, states prioritizing environmental conservation and sustainability, such as California or Oregon, often appeal to visitors who value eco-friendly practices and outdoor activities. On the other hand, states that prioritize business-friendly policies, such as Texas or Florida, may attract tourists interested in economic opportunities and entrepreneurship. The policy focus of a destination can directly influence the types of experiences and attractions available to visitors.

  2. Cultural Values and Destination Image The political orientation of a destination can also reflect the cultural values and identity of the region. States with progressive political orientations, such as New York or Massachusetts, may be perceived as more diverse, inclusive, and culturally vibrant. This can attract tourists seeking experiences that celebrate diversity, arts, and cultural events. In contrast, states with conservative political orientations, such as Alabama or Utah, may be seen as more traditional and conservative, attracting visitors interested in historical sites, religious tourism, or outdoor recreational activities. The cultural values associated with a destination's political orientation can shape its image and influence tourists' decision to visit.

  3. Political Events and Tourism Political events and milestones can have a significant impact on tourism within a destination. For instance, the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., attracts visitors from around the world who are interested in witnessing this historic event. Similarly, political conventions or major political rallies held in different states can draw tourists who are politically engaged or interested in experiencing the political atmosphere firsthand. These events can result in increased tourism, benefiting local businesses and the economy.

  4. LGBTQ+ Rights and Tourism The political orientation of a destination can play a crucial role in attracting or deterring LGBTQ+ travelers. States that have progressive policies and legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community, such as California or New York, are often preferred destinations for LGBTQ+ travelers seeking inclusive experiences. Conversely, states with conservative political orientations and limited protections for LGBTQ+ individuals may face challenges in attracting this market segment. The impact of political orientation on LGBTQ+ tourism can be seen in the case of North Carolina, where the passing of a controversial bathroom bill led to boycotts and a decline in tourism.

  5. Gun Control Policies and Safety Perception The political orientation of a destination can influence tourists' perception of safety, particularly concerning gun control policies. States with stricter gun control laws, such as New York or California, may be perceived as safer by visitors who are concerned about gun violence. In contrast, states with more relaxed gun control policies, such as Texas or Arizona, may be seen as having potential safety risks associated with the prevalence of firearms. Tourists may consider these factors when deciding which destinations they feel comfortable visiting.


Santa Cruz and Huntington Beach Examples

Santa Cruz, California, and Huntington Beach, California, are two coastal cities within the state of California that have distinct political orientations. These differences in political orientation can impact visitors' perceptions and influence their decision to visit. Let's contrast the political orientations of these two cities and examine their impact on visitors' perceptions.

  1. Santa Cruz, California: Santa Cruz is known for its progressive and liberal political orientation. The city has a long-standing reputation for being environmentally conscious, socially inclusive, and politically active. The local government of Santa Cruz prioritizes sustainability, environmental protection, and social justice. This political orientation is reflected in the city's policies, which focus on initiatives such as renewable energy, waste reduction, and community engagement. The impact on visitors' perception to visit Santa Cruz:

a. Environmental Appeal: Santa Cruz's progressive political orientation and emphasis on environmental sustainability make it an attractive destination for visitors seeking eco-friendly experiences. The city's commitment to preserving natural resources, such as its pristine beaches, redwood forests, and marine sanctuaries, appeals to tourists interested in outdoor activities, nature conservation, and sustainable tourism practices.

b. Cultural Vibe: Santa Cruz's liberal political orientation fosters a diverse and inclusive cultural environment. Visitors who value diversity, multiculturalism, and artistic expression are drawn to the city's vibrant arts scene, music festivals, and progressive social initiatives. The city's reputation for supporting LGBTQ+ rights and advocacy also attracts tourists seeking inclusive experiences.

c. Activism and Engagement: The politically active nature of Santa Cruz can be appealing to visitors who are interested in engaging with local communities and participating in social or political movements. The city's history of activism and protests creates a unique atmosphere that resonates with those seeking to support causes and engage in civic discourse.

2. Huntington Beach, California: Huntington Beach, in contrast to Santa Cruz, has a more conservative political orientation. The city is known for emphasizing business-friendly policies, limited government intervention, and a focus on preserving traditional values. The local government of Huntington Beach prioritizes economic growth, tourism development, and maintaining a family-friendly environment.The impact on visitors' perception to visit Huntington Beach:

a. Beach and Outdoor Recreation: Huntington Beach's conservative political orientation aligns with its focus on maintaining a clean and safe beach environment for families and tourists. Visitors seeking a relaxed and family-oriented beach experience may be attracted to the city's reputation for well-maintained beaches, recreational activities, and a sense of community.

b. Traditional Values: The conservative political orientation of Huntington Beach, with its emphasis on preserving traditional values, may appeal to visitors who value a more conservative lifestyle or seek destinations that align with their cultural or religious beliefs. The city's commitment to community events, parades, and patriotic celebrations reflects this traditional value system.

c. Business and Entrepreneurship: Huntington Beach's business-friendly policies and limited government intervention can attract visitors interested in exploring economic opportunities or attending business conferences and events. The city's support for local entrepreneurship and small businesses creates an environment that may appeal to those interested in economic growth and development.

The political orientation of Santa Cruz, California, and Huntington Beach, California, significantly impacts visitors' perceptions and influences their decision to visit. Santa Cruz's progressive and liberal political orientation appeals to those seeking eco-friendly practices, cultural vibrancy, and engagement with social and environmental causes. On the other hand, Huntington Beach's conservative political orientation attracts visitors looking for a family-friendly environment, traditional values, and economic opportunities. Understanding the political orientations of these cities helps visitors make informed decisions and find destinations that align with their values and interests.

Strategy Perspective- What can a DMO do?

Promoting a highly political destination requires careful consideration and a nuanced approach to avoid controversy and polarization. Here are some strategies that can be effective:

  • Focus on Neutral Aspects.  Highlight aspects of the destination that are universally appealing and not tied to political issues. This could include cultural heritage, natural beauty, cuisine, arts, and architecture.

  • Emphasize Unity and Inclusivity. Frame the destination's promotion in a way that emphasizes unity and inclusivity rather than divisive political issues. Showcase how the destination welcomes visitors from diverse backgrounds and fosters cultural exchange.

  • Highlight Positive Developments. Highlight positive developments or initiatives within the destination that demonstrate progress or efforts toward resolving political issues. This could include peacebuilding efforts, cultural exchanges, or community development projects.

  • Educational and Cultural Experiences. Offer educational and cultural experiences that provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the destination's history, culture, and political context. This can help promote empathy and understanding among visitors.

  • Engage in Responsible Tourism.  Promote responsible tourism practices that respect local communities and cultures. Encourage visitors to engage with local businesses, support community-based initiatives, and learn about the destination's social and political context.

  • Tailor Marketing Messages. Tailor marketing messages to different audience segments based on their interests and sensitivities. Avoid using language or imagery that could be interpreted as taking sides in political debates.

  • Work with Local Stakeholders. Collaborate closely with local stakeholders, including government agencies, community organizations, and tourism businesses, to ensure that promotional efforts are respectful and aligned with local priorities.

  • Use Diplomacy. Be diplomatic in communications and avoid making controversial statements or taking positions on sensitive political issues. Focus on promoting the destination's positive attributes rather than engaging in political debates.

  • Monitor Feedback and Adapt.  Continuously research and monitor feedback from visitors and stakeholders and be prepared to adapt marketing strategies as needed. Pay attention to any arising concerns or controversies and address them promptly and transparently.


The political orientation of a destination within the United States significantly influences tourists' decision-making process. Policy priorities, cultural values, political events, LGBTQ+ rights, and gun control policies are just a few examples of how political orientation can shape visitors' perceptions and choices. By understanding the impact of political factors on tourism, destinations can develop strategies to attract a broader range of visitors and create experiences that align with their political orientation. Travelers, in turn, can make informed decisions and support destinations that align with their values, contributing to the growth and development of tourism within the United States.


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