Rebuilding Asia Tourism 7-21-2003

Travel industry weighs future crisis planning

By: David Evans

Against a backdrop of economic malaise, terrorist attacks, war and most recently SARS, travel academics, industry professionals and organization chiefs are calling on the industry and governments to cooperate and adapt to face future challenges and prepare for more uncertainty.

“Not only is there uncertainty about the unknown crisis, but there is certainty that there is going to be another one,” said Richard Gordon, secretary of tourism for the Philippines and chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

Gordon was among dozens of speakers at the International Cooperation for Tourism Development under a New Paradigm, a conference organized by the Boao Forum for Asia and the World Tourism Organization and held in Hong Kong last week.

Gordon called for what he described as travel and tourism “co-opetition,” an agreement among countries and between the public and private sectors to cooperate, coordinate and collaborate.

Perhaps SARS, more than any of the other recent crises, exposed cracks in the communications among the industry’s trade associations, governments and international organizations.

In what some believe was a knee-jerk reaction, the World Health Organization (WHO) began announcing advisory travel warnings before it had consulted anyone in the industry.

At the time it issued the advisory in March, the WHO said it was the first it had issued in decades.

It was only after discussions with IATA that the health organization came out with a statement saying it was safe to travel on aircraft.

“When international organizations like the WHO is issuing a travel ban, it seems that it has been doing that in its own world without looking outside, and that is a major problem,” said Jean-Claude Baumgarten, president of the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Speaking at the conferences opening ceremony, Francesco Frangialli, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization, outlined a series of measures designed to limit the impact of future crises.

He called for more pre-crisis planning, honest and transparent communication, and more partnerships between public authorities and the private sector. Travel industry chiefs have also called for a more sophisticated approach to the business of response planning.

Further disruptions are inevitable and business as usual means having a crisis management plan in place, they said, noting that a crisis 12,000 miles away can very quickly become a crisis in your own backyard in today’s interconnected world.

“The general feeling is that there is a new paradigm, and that new paradigm leads us into a new state where there is almost a permanent concern that we will have a degree of uncertainty about our operating framework,” explained Geoffrey Lipman, the special advisor to the tourism organization’s secretary-general and a former president of the World Travel and Tourism Council.

“There has to be some new long-term framework for operating in which the industry itself is more cohesive,” he said.

At a ceremony in Beijing later this year, the World Tourism Organization is expected to announce that its operations are to fall under the auspices of the United Nations.

This status is widely believed to mark the starting point for greater cooperation among the various government and non-government organizations. And the improved cooperation is seen as the first step in better managing the industry’s response to future and as yet unknown crises.

Becoming a UN agency will force the kind of interactions that, up until now, have been a little bit unclear as to how they should happen, said Lipman.

“And it will help build linkages so that you have a much more rapidly adjustable system,” Lipman said.