AS the global tourism industry reels from successive terror attacks in recent times, it is heartening to note that the Arab world has refused to be cowed down by violent activities of a few insane and indoctrinated individuals, whose main objective is to create fear psychosis in society to serve the larger strategic interests of their handlers.
At a time when global tourism has taken a massive hit after a spike in terror attacks on popular tourist destinations, leading to 14 percent drop in global tourism spending, the Arab Tourism Experts Union has very appropriately gone ahead with their decision to establish its principal base in Riyadh, for promoting tourism across MENA region.
Saudi Arabia, after all, is an Arab world leader vis-à-vis the size of investment and job opportunities created in the travel and tourism sector. And this spirit to continue normal business in the face of relentless extremist onslaught will surely help heal the wounded global tourism economy apart from promoting greater intercultural contacts and dialogue. Tourism industry, one must not forget, is a great enabler of cross-cultural interaction, transcending all sorts of restrictions, including physical or psychological.
With no tourist destination appearing to be safe after the attack on the boardwalk of the glamorous and family-friendly French seaside city of Nice, popular with tourists from all over the world, there is a need to devise a way to wriggle out of this crisis at the earliest. True, terrorism has so far not affected the travel and tourism industry at a macro-economic level because, as experts say, travelers change destinations due to fear factor but never abandon leisure travel permanently. However, the hard fact is, there has been an immediate and relatively short-term effect on popular international tourism destinations from high-impact terror strike.
For example, after the November 2015 Paris attacks, hotel occupancy rate fell 21 percent on the following Saturday and 23 percent thereafter. Turkey, which experienced a series of high-profile bombings, has seen its tourism drop by 10 percentage point. A survey conducted by a reputed travel insurance company reveals, as high as 86 percent of American tourists are, by their own admission, fearful of an attack while on holidays. And this fear factor varies demographically. Those over 55 years of age are frightened by terrorist attacks the most, though millennial generation and the middle aged — falling into 35-55 years age bracket — people perceived terrorism threat no differently. But then, as per the said survey, despite serious apprehension about safety and security, this fear psychosis has rarely prevented Americans from sticking to their vacation plan, with only 6 percent of respondents actually canceling their vacation because of terrorism concerns while 22 percent going to the extent of altering their itinerary.
Interestingly, 42 percent of the survey respondents who showed an inclination to alter their holiday destination are actually those who were headed to Europe, as is evident from the sudden drop in revenues of airline carrier like Air France, which recorded a 5.2 percent dip in earnings. Indeed, many leading tour operators have also been hit by falling revenues and widening losses due to continued instability across the European continent. Besides, repercussions of sensational extremist violence are felt beyond sectors directly associated with the tourism industry, namely transport, hospitality et al, and even affect intermediaries in the supply chain.
Moreover, tourism sector, worth approximately $7.6 trillion, is now the world’s leading industry, employing a whopping 284 million (1 in 11 jobs on the planet) people. Morally speaking, concerns about diminishing profit in tourism sector or economic consequences of global terrorism on a vital job-creating engine must not overshadow the unbearable sufferings that families of the terror victims are forced to endure. But, at the same time humanity cannot allow the beasts to snatch away its freedom of movement as more and more people perceive the world to be a hostile place with each passing day.
Yes, in today’s volatile scenario, even a very unlikely place is not immune from unorthodox form of attacks launched by the foot soldiers of terrorism. However, it is this uncertainty that needs to be converted into an advantage instead of letting terror actors dictate peoples’ vacation plans or movement. No doubt, the terror plotters exploit human lives to create panic and mayhem that affect normal socio-economic activities for a long time. Terrorism, in present day context, is also used as a strategic tool to hinder a possible, better or even deeper understanding and commitment between two people of diverse background to usher a better world. It is in this context that one must seriously consider exploiting the potential of terrorism in bolstering tourism revenue.
When it is universally accepted that more or less all destinations, in the background of uniform proliferation of terrorism across the globe, will be affected by crisis at some point, why not turn such a threat into an opportunity with introduction of terror tourism, especially when the growing phenomenon of dark tourism, involving visit to places of tragedies that continues to impact our lives, has proved increasingly popular?
New York, where Ground Zero is rivaling the Statue of Liberty in popularity, is a glaring example of how commercializing disaster can cause a destination, which lost $2 billion in revenue and suffered 190,000 job losses post 9/11, to thrive. Since, tourists have multiple motivations for traveling, even within a single journey, terrorism should be converted into an opportunity to beat the demons in their own game.