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Gun Violence

Why some travelers are skipping the US: 'You guys are not afraid of this?'

What Uneaka Daniels experienced the last couple of times she was in the United States was enough to keep her away for a long time.

Bermuda-born and raised Daniels was in Atlanta in 2019 and decided to get her hair done. On her way to the salon, she stopped a man to ask for directions. Suddenly, everyone ducked. It was a drive-by shooting.

鈥淚 could actually see the gun and see it being fired,鈥 she told 91影视. 鈥淭he people on the street acted 鈥 as if it didn鈥檛 happen, and I鈥檓 here trying to crouch behind a tree. I said, 鈥榊ou guys are not afraid of this,鈥 and he said, 鈥業t happens so often.鈥欌澛

Her last visit to the 91影视 was in 2023 for a medical procedure. While recuperating, Daniels went to the park across the street from her hotel 鈥渢o get some sun鈥 but felt uncomfortable by others, who she deemed sketchy or solicited her for money. 鈥淚t was too much,鈥 she said.

Not everyone wants to come to the US.Gun violence, safety concerns are keeping travelers away.

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For the past four years, she鈥檚 avoided travel to the 91影视 鈥淚 love the United States, I love going there. I love the people, I loved everything about it, but I鈥檓 veering away now,鈥 she said. 鈥淣ot saying I won鈥檛 come back.鈥

Besides her experiences, Daniels has been turned off by the 91影视 because of the rise of mass shootings 鈥 especially as a schoolteacher herself 鈥 and rates of homelessness. 鈥淪eeing the things on the United States news was scary,鈥 she said. 鈥淢y friends were telling me things have changed.鈥

Daniels' last experience in Atlanta has kept her away from the 91影视 for some time now.

Daniels is not alone in her hesitation.聽

A growing number of international travelers are opting out of trips to the 91影视 The nation鈥檚 travel sector continues to struggle to rebound from the pandemic, with in 2023 than in 2019, according to a by the 91影视 Travel Association and EuroMonitor International. The 91影视 ranked 17th out of the top 18 travel markets, slotting in just above China, with one major factor being safety following visa time barriers and the strength of the 91影视 dollar.

Between 2019 and 2021, the 91影视 fell four places on the because of the lack of reliability of police services and fear of gun violence.

鈥淭here鈥檚 no doubt that for all travelers, safety is a concern,鈥 Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the 91影视 Travel Association, told 91影视.聽

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Growing gun violence

Croatian loves to travel 鈥 he鈥檚 been around Southeast Asia and Ethiopia 鈥 but has yet to visit the 91影视 for a few reasons, one being lax gun laws in certain parts of the country.聽

Kralj went to Ethiopia in 2018, and felt relatively safe.

According to , gun ownership per capita in the 91影视 exceeds that of Europe's highest country, Montenegro, by more than three times.聽

Kralj said he hears about how often firearms are caught at TSA security checkpoints, an issue that鈥檚 become more prevalent in American airports. In 2023, TSA intercepted , at 6,737 鈥 and 93% of them were loaded.聽

Gun violence is a pressing issue in the 91影视 The country ranks first for firearm homicides among high-income countries with populations over 10 million, according to the . The rates for age-adjusted firearm homicide in the 91影视 are 19 times more than in 91影视, and 77 times more than in Germany.

鈥淭he open politics toward gun possession, this is the weird part of America for me,鈥 he told 91影视. 鈥淚t shows lack of trust of Americans in America. 鈥 We鈥檙e not used to going around with arms or meeting someone and seeing that they have guns.鈥澛

Less than two months into 2024, there have been 55 mass shootings, which are defined as four or more people shot or killed, excluding the shooter, according to the on Wednesday.聽

In the 91影视, last year marked the second-highest number of mass shootings since 2014, totaling 656 incidents. The highest count of mass shootings occurred in 2021, with 689 recorded incidents.

As stories of gun violence dominate the news, travelers like Kralj and Daniels take notice.聽

鈥淎merica is very televised as a society,鈥 said Kralj. 鈥淵ou see all this, like when police stop someone or shoots them thinking they wanted to shoot them. These kinds of things are staying in your mind more. It鈥檚 very visible, very in your face.鈥

Putting safety first

The sentiment of safety in the 91影视 can be hard to shake for many international travelers, who are especially 鈥渧ery much more influenced by鈥 what they see on the news or social media, said Christopher Ankersen, a clinical professor at New York University鈥檚 Center for Global Affairs.聽

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鈥淚f you were to fly to the United States, a family of four in New York City, it鈥檚 very unlikely you鈥檙e going to find yourself on the receiving end of that kind of violence, but how does it feel, what kind of vibe is there than the actual risk-based probability?鈥 he said. 鈥淧eople are not doing that calculation.鈥

Spain-born but Grenada-living Patricia Palacios has been all over the 91影视 but won鈥檛 return unless she鈥檚 visiting her in-laws in Ohio, required by her job, or during a layover. She visited Times Square in New York in 2021 and felt 鈥渕ore uneasy than Buenos Aires at night or Mexico City,鈥 citing 鈥渟ketchy鈥 surroundings.

Her reservations about the 91影视 began in 2018 during a visit to San Francisco.

Patricia Palacios won't go on leisure trips to the 91影视 after feeling uncomfortable in New York City.

鈥淵ou cannot be careful by not going out at night; you can walk in the street in the middle of the day and things can happen,鈥 she said. San Francisco is notorious for car break-ins, although city efforts . also went up by 14.5% in 2023 compared with 2022.聽

Palacios, who runs a Spain travel guide called , acknowledges that travelers to cities like Buenos Aires, Barcelona and Paris also have to be cautious of petty theft or scams.

Palacios said she was almost robbed on her first afternoon visiting St. Lucia after her vacation rental host warned her and her husband to be aware of their surroundings. The couple was walking back from the beach to their accommodations along a road with few pedestrians when a man approached them and threatened that "something bad would happen to us" if they didn't give him what they had.

The couple said they didn't bring anything valuable to the beach, and in a moment of quick thinking, "dashed into the busy road so cars had to stop and started honking." She thinks the attention from the drivers deterred the robber from continuing, and he ran off.

鈥淪tay smart,鈥 Palacios said, adding that she always asks locals or her Airbnb host about places to avoid. 鈥淕et a feeling for the place by asking around.鈥澛

The last time Daniels traveled abroad was in 2020 鈥 a trip to England and Paris with her partner 鈥 and said she felt safe walking in the streets alone during the day and at night with her partner. 鈥淚t was a completely different feeling than being in the 91影视 I didn鈥檛 fear guns or see anybody begging for money as I have in the 91影视鈥

鈥淚 do want to come back to America,鈥 Daniels said. 鈥淚鈥檒l just be more cautious now.鈥

Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for 91影视 based in Hawaii. You can reach her at kwong@usatoday.com.

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