For travelers who like politics, London-based tour organizer Nicholas Wood can arrange trips to obscure spots from Bosnia and Jerusalem -- even to remote North Korea.
But Wood has never had a tour more popular with worldwide visitors than his trip to Ohio in November.
“The U.S. tour is by far by the most popular tour we’ve ever had,” said Wood, a former New York Times Balkans correspondent who founded Political Tours in 2011. “This election is obviously a pivotal one.”
Wood has already sold out two tours to Ohio, and he added a third tour to another swing state – Florida, which he expects to sell out within weeks (he may even add another).
The travelers are mostly middle-aged or retired professionals from Australia, Britain and the United States who have a keen interest in current affairs.
“Instead of reading about it on the news or watching it on TV, we give people the opportunity to assess the situation firsthand accompanied by really good experts, so they are able to ask questions for themselves,” Wood said.
Each 14-person tour offers a behind-the-scenes look at this election. The eight-day Ohio tour makes stops in Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton, before leaving for Washington D.C., where visitors will watch the election results on Nov. 8.
“We don’t do bus tourism,” Wood said. “Our approach is very much the same as a journalist. We want to sit down and have conversations with people.”
Former journalists lead most of the tours. Bill Hershey, a former reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal and Dayton Daily News, led the company’s first tour to Ohio in 2012, and will be leading one in November.
“I think in general they see Ohio as a microcosm of the country,” Hershey said. “We have a little bit of everything here.”
In 2012, Hershey’s tourists met with Mansfield farmers, union members, state party leaders in Columbus and a minister who explained the history of presidential politics in Cleveland through the eyes of black churches. They walked door to door with campaign workers for President Barack Obama, saw how votes were tabulated at a county board of elections, and met with reporters, auto workers and political science professors.
“I’ve always been fascinated by American politics,” said Alan Richenberg, of London, who took the 2012 Ohio tour and signed up again this year.
Richenberg is a retired financial investment manager who specialized in American equities, so his career depended on paying attention to politics here. His interest never went away.
“We all feel as if we have a proxy vote in your election even though we don’t,” Richenberg said. “America is the most powerful country in world and what happens will affect us all quite a bit.”
Foreign visitors seem to be particularly curious about Republican nominee Donald Trump.
“We haven’t seen a candidate like Donald Trump before and everyone is astonished he has come so far,” Wood said.
While Richenberg is interested in learning more about the Tea Party, which was just getting started when he visited in 2012, and the campaign ground games in Ohio, he also wants to meet Trump supporters.
“Trump has definitely galvanized interest, whatever you think of him,” Richenberg said. “I would like to understand more from Trump supporters about the dynamics of why they overlook certain things that seem to be very obvious if you don’t support Donald Trump.”