The role of tourism security in economically challenging times


Despite some of the optimistic talk of global economic recovery, the highest likelihood is that the tourism industry still has several challenging months or even years ahead of it. Often when the economy is down we not only forget to be ‘up’ but we tend to cut back where we ought not to be cutting back. The same is true of communities throughout the world. For example, numerous communities have cut back on their marketing campaigns precisely during a period when they ought to be expanding these campaigns.

Another area that unfortunately is being curtailed is police and security departments. Based on the false premise that security adds nothing to the bottom line, police departments and professional security agencies have seen their budgets curtailed precisely when they are most needed. This police and security cutback is especially challenging to every form of tourism: from hotels to attractions, from restaurants to transportation providers. To help you place this need in perspective, consider the following:

Never forget that no one ever needs to take a vacation.

While business travellers may have to go to places that they would prefer to avoid, the leisure traveller can choose to go somewhere else or simply stay at home. Despite the fact that the travel industry does not like the word, the ‘staycation’ is becoming a part of our economic landscape. It only takes one incident to destroy the sense of security that visitors demand.

Without tourism security even the best marketing will fail.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that the tourism market can be easily scared. Even before September 11, 2001 visitors wanted to know if a locale provides good tourism security. Tourism security is not just about putting police on the streets, it is also about making sure that food is safe, that pandemics do not decimate an industry or that a location’s reputation is not destroyed by panhandlers or prostitution.

Use tourism security to attract baby boomers.

Despite the economic meltdown, the best niche market throughout the developed world, or for countries that seek visitors from the developed world, in the upcoming decade is the baby boom generation. These are people who will soon be retiring in droves and who seek fun, educational, and meaningful experiences for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren. As people age, the issue of security and safety moves to the forefront. Presence is essential and the cost of a security professional is a lot less than the cost of additional advertising due to loss revenue. What is true of the baby boom generation is also true of the ‘single woman traveller’ (a woman travelling alone). Businesswomen want to know that they are safe and do not have to worry about their security. Promote safety and security programmes to people in this niche.

Passive security equipment is helpful but does not take the place of real human beings.

A major marketing mistake is believing that cameras and other forms of technology can take the place of human beings. That is not to say that there is no place for technology, much to the contrary, new technological devices can be tremendous aids to security professionals. Machines, however, do not provide a sense of empathetic hospitality that is essential for a successful tourism industry. The best course of action is to blend human security with technology.

Do not let the media scare you about an increase in crime due to an economic turndown.

Not all poor people are criminals. In fact, most poor people are very descent and honest human beings. While in rare cases a few people will turn to crime to satiate hunger or obtain medicine, these people are the exception to the rule and not the rule. However, in tourism, perception often governs a tourist’s reality and if our visitors believe that an economic downturn will produce an increase in crime, then showing a tourism security presence becomes even more important. What does produce crime, however, is a lack of beautification. Make sure that your streets are clean, that garbage is collected, that foliage is pruned and that graffiti is removed. What is true of the urban landscape is also true for both rural areas and for major buildings such as convention centres.

Do not just use security professionals, be they private or public, as merely passive officers.

Think like a business. How can these people give you a competitive edge? Do they go into the field to attract new clients for you? Do you have a police tourism security brochure that attracts visitors while giving necessary information rather than scaring them? Do your marketing people meet with your security providers on a regular basis?

Think through what your tourism security priorities are.

What are the main challenges to your destination being perceived as a safe and secure destination? How is the housing crisis impacting your security reality? Are there more homeless people on the streets since the start of the economic downturn? Is street peddling and/or prostitution a problem for your community? Are your security professionals and police overworked and underpaid? Do the media tend to emphasise the negative and thus create a perceived reality that is far different from the true reality?

Promote tourism security as you would promote a new business.

Classically during downtimes CEOs, mayors, and managers cut back on tourism security. Nothing could be a greater mistake. These are the times to think out of the box. When people are scared then tourism security is part of economic security. Launch your security product as if it were any other new product. Try to see new and innovative ways that you can use your police and security professionals as a means to enhance your product and add extra value to it. Work with local universities to develop new paradigms, and transform your security methods from being reactive to proactive.

Advertise to both your guests and locals and make sure they understand that you have a tourism security plan.

All too many CEOs and city governments still hold the outdated notion that professional security agents and police scare away visitors. The reality is very much the contrary, the safer and more secure your destination is perceived to be, the greater the opportunity to increase your margin of profit. The bottom line here is advertise, advertise, and then advertise your security even more.