By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

We’ve all had it…the urge to run into distracted walkers staring into their phones and yell, “Look up!” Although it is a personal pet peeve, distracted walking has moved beyond an issue of manners and has become a safety hazard, accounting for one out of 10 pedestrian injuries. The National Security Council has added distracted walking to its annual report on unintentional deaths and injuries, while New Jersey is considering a statewide ban on texting and walking (I can only imagine trying to enforce that one).

In a world of increasing connectivity, I have to ask: Are we actually becoming less connected—not just to others but to our surroundings?

The mobile device obsession isn’t contained to the streets of New York where I live, it has also changed the way people travel. Many travelers are no longer living in the moment, but instead using mobile devices to prove they had the experience on social media channels rather than taking a moment to be truly present to enjoy the magnificent architecture, natural wonders and stories from local residents. These experiences are what create a life-changing journey and lasting memories. Every day the tour operator members of USTOA and you, our valued travel agent partners, create travel opportunities designed to inspire travelers to put down their phones and participate in the world around them.

Distracted traveling endangers the authentic encounters available to travelers. Living and travelling through mobile devices has been noted to alter the way we remember things. The moment is never truly absorbed if not experienced fully, before documenting with the intention of posting on social media channels. And, memories aren’t the only thing at risk. In 2015, more people died from selfies than shark attacks. While rare, it’s shocking to hear that selfies at tourist attractions like the Taj Mahal have resulted in visitor deaths. Safety is a priority for the travel industry and urging travelers to pay attention is imperative to also keeping them safe.

The travel industry has an obligation to travelers, and to the industry, to remind people why experiencing the world in person is worth the trip. Encourage travelers to look up from the blue glare of their screens and into the eyes of someone they just met. Travelers’ experiences – as well as their safety – can be protected. It’s as simple as looking up.

This post originally ran in the June 2016 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.

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