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Courtesy US Travel Association
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WORDS MATTER

A US travel group just unveiled an incredibly xenophobic-sounding new slogan

By Leslie Josephs

The stated mission of the US Travel Association is “to increase travel to and within the United States.”

So it was strange when the industry group that represents the interests of hotels and transportation companies this week unveiled a new slogan: “Welcome legit travelers.” Written atop a map of the United States, the slogan highlights the word “legit” in red cursive. The organization said it planned to gift mousepads with the image on it to lawmakers in Washington.

The syntax of the slogan—the command ”Welcome legit travelers,” and not the greeting “Welcome, legit travelers”—directs it at those lawmakers, urging them to keep in place programs that encourage tourism, and not at travelers themselves. Still, it’s easy to misread it as implying that only certain travelers are welcome.

Jonathan Grella, a spokesman for the US Travel Association, said the group used the word “legit” in the slogan to refute any suggestion that the group is soft on security. “It’s insulating ourselves,” he said. ”Legit” travelers, he said, are business and leisure visitors who mean no harm to the US.

The association has been fretting over how US president Donald Trump’s hard line restricting some travelers entry would affect overall tourism, and says the slogan’s intent was to convey that it’s in the country’s economic interest to welcome visitors. “The travel industry supports efforts to secure travel, but recent policy changes require extra effort to facilitate travel for legitimate international visitors,” US Travel Association president Roger Dow said in a release. “As I have said before, and will continue to say, security and travel facilitation are not, and cannot be mutually exclusive. International inbound travel is our nation’s second-largest export, and millions of American jobs depend upon striking the correct balance.”

Trump’s administration has put in place entry bans for citizens of certain countries in the Muslim world (currently blocked by a court’s injunction), and an in-cabin electronics ban on nonstop flights from countries in the Middle East. Meanwhile, stepped-up checks at borders, even of US citizens, have been confusing and unsettling for many travelers and worrying in some corners of the travel industry.

International visitors to the US spent $247 billion last year, and a less hospitable United States could slow the industry’s growth. There are signs that Trump’s stance may already be taking a toll. Searches for flights to the US dropped in the weeks after Trump’s inauguration, according to the airfare tracker Hopper. New York City’s tourism board last month said it expects fewer foreign visitors this year than last, which would be the first annual decline since 2008.

The Girl Guides of Canada earlier this month said it would limit the number of trips its members take to the United States. And some Canadian schools say they will stop booking trips to the US, to avoid putting students in uncomfortable positions at the border.