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Wrapping-up 2008

Dr. Peter Tarlow, Tourism Tidbits  Dec 29, 2008

Many travel and tourism professionals may well be happy to say adieu to the year 2008. No matter if you are a travel or tourism provider or customer, 2008 has been a year of travel and tourism frustrations and anger, disappointment and tragedy. From increased terrorism against hotels around the world to an economic downturn that is impacting the multiple nations, from the roller coaster ride of fuel prices to issues of food safety, 2008 has provided tourism and travel professionals with a sea of never ending challenges. To add to tourism and travel professionals' litany of woes the concluding year has seen more than its fill of acts of tourism crime, visitor kidnappings and sexual abuse. In reality there is no country that has not escaped at least one of these social diseases.

In too many parts of the world modern tourism is plagued by poor services often provided by underpaid and overworked employees who live in fear of losing their jobs. The divide between travel expectations and travel realities seems to grow wider by the day. This ethical and moral meltdown in travel is compounded by the fact that many people see tourism and travel as just one way among many to spend their disposable income. Thus, travel and tourism must compete not only with other travel destinations but also with any other product for which consumers are prepared to spend their disposable income.

In order to prosper in this highly competitive and interlocked world consider using all or at least some of the following ideas and intellectual tools:
Go back to the basics of tourism. Try to remember why you first sought a job in the industry. If it was only for the money, then this is a good time to seek another field. If, however it was about the romance of travel, the fun of being with people and the love of adventure, then this is the time to rekindle an old flame. Be prepared to work harder than your competition and with a smile on your face at all times. Working hard does not mean simply putting in longer hours, but it also means developing new ideas and learning to think out of the box. Travel and tourism professionals can no longer say, "we do not do it this way" rather they need to come up with creative problem solving and the realization that the key question is not "why do it" but rather "how can we do it?"

Convince yourself that we live in a very different world. The tourism industry, if it likes it or not, stands on the front lines of a global war. All too often denial sets in and we simply hope that evil will go away. Unfortunately wishful thinking will not solve problems. The tourism industry is going to have to partner with well-trained police agencies in TOPPs (tourism oriented policing and protection services). Hotels are going to have to prioritize their security departments, and vigilance has to be a priority. A major lesson learned from the tragic attacks in Mumbai is that the terrorists waited until the hotels lowered their level of vigilance and then struck.

Develop pre-relationships. Too often we spend time with others only when we need them. In a rapidly changing world do more than merely having your relationships in place, keep them current and ongoing. For example, one of the lessons learned from the Mumbai attacks was that the terrorists knew the interiors of the hotels better than the Indian police. The terrorists were smart enough to have been "guests" in the hotels and knew their layouts while most of the police reported that the first time they had ever entered the hotels was when they had to flush out the terrorists. The lesson here is that hotels, restaurants and attractions do well to invite police and fire safety officials to visit and know their establishments inside and out.

Be part of your community. Your business does not stop at the edge of your attraction. Too often travel and tourism professionals spend time telling others what they need from the community rather than offering to do for others in the community. The best way to learn about a community is to be part of it. Join local beneficent and philanthropic organizations; be involved, and share your expertise with others and they will soon be promoting you. The more you are out in the community the better the chances are that the community will not only support the local tourism industry especially in tough economic times but also actively work on its behalf.

Develop credibility. Too often hospitality professional tell the public what they believe the public wants to hear rather than what is true. The result is a loss of credibility, frustration and anger. It is far better to level with the public, tell the truth and offer solutions than to mislead the public and simply pass the problem off to the next person.

In a down economy, be up with a smile! Travel and tourism are not easy or inexpensive today. Work on bettering your customer service and no matter what goes wrong, own the problem and find a way to fix it. Remember that travelers are often frustrated by things out of their control and confused. Often they have not eaten or slept, may be in need of a clear rest room and a hot shower. Ask yourself if you would be any less difficult if you were in their place. Try not to treat them in a way in which you would prefer not to be treated either.

Be prepared for a possible rough 2009. While no one know the future a whole host of new problems may be developing on the horizon. The recent spat of piracy on the high seas may present the greatest challenge to tourism since the period of airplane hijackings. Furthermore, the depressed economy in many locales means that some police budgets have been cut while others have not received the economic support that they need. Make sure to see tourism safety professionals, be they the police or private security as allies rather than competitors for funding.

Let's consider an international tourism and travel kindness day. We may not be able to stop evil in the world, but we can face evil with kindness and caring. Tourism Organizations need to promote an International Kindness Day where we face the darkness brought about by poor economic news and hatred with a day in which we offer the light of tourism through acts of kindnesses. Such a day will demonstrate to the world that tourism is more than merely a business, but rather the hospitality industry is in the forefront of advancing human understanding and kindness toward our fellow citizens of the world.

Dr. Peter Tarlow is one of the most sought after tourism security expert, He may be reached via email at

Wrapping-up 2008
Photograph by Nelson Alcantara

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