Just a few days before the United States’ busiest travel day,the tourism and travel community faces another economic challenge. The latest controversy surrounding the “full body scanners” and “enhanced pat-downs” has become one more event in the combined tragic comedy that has become air travel. On one hand the cry “don’t touch my junk” has taken on a whole new meaning. On the other hand, there are those who argue that these complaints are nothing more than a reflection of a spoiled public, and that if “you don’t like the new regulations, don’t fly.” Terrorists in Yemen now brag that for very little money they can take down an airliner and memories of September 11, 2001 still abound.
Tourism and travel professionals, however, have still other worries. Included in these is the fact that newest regulations may simply encourage people not to travel. More and more we are coming to understand why the word travel is derived from the French word “travail” meaning “work,” which in turn is derived from the Latin word for pitchfork. The following article looks at the pros and cons of the newest regulations and then provides some suggestions for travel and tourism professionals.
Government officials argue that these new enhanced regulations are necessary to keep the public safe. From their perspective it is better to have one’s body parts touched than it is to have them blown up. The government argues that the fully body scans are done in such a way as not to embarrass any traveler, that they are state-of-the-art, and that they are perfectly healthy and do not cause disease. For those who prefer the enhanced pat-downs, the government points out that TSA employees also dislike the need to touch someone’s private parts and that these people are doing this only as an act of patriotism. The reality is that if a passenger is not a frequent flier, the body scanners will probably not do him/her any harm and that TSA employees did not sign up to become “body-feelers.” Another argument is that even if we stop only one terrorist attack, the government has done its job in protecting the common welfare of its citizens. Unfortunately, the statement by high government officials that if you do not like the new regulations then simply do not fly has struck many as cold and arrogant. In today’s world with families divided across the nation and business done from a global perspective, there are too many people who depend on air travel for both work and family reasons. For many business people, the alternatives are to fly or to go out of business.
Those who have rallied around the cry “don’t touch my junk” take a very different approach. These people argue that instead of punishing the traveler, the government ought to be seeking out the terrorists. The arguments against the enhanced scanners and pat-downs are: (1) they are an invasion of privacy, (2) they are not effective in the fight against terrorism, but rather are symbols of a reactive policy rather than a pro-active policy, (3) they treat everyone the same no matter what the person’s level of security risk, (4) the machines may cause cancer, and (5) that selective psychological analysis (profiling) is more effective and provides better protection.
While there is some remote possibility that the body scanners might cause long-term health effects on extreme frequent fliers, the odds are that they are just one more medical scare in a long line of scares. On the other hand, a determined terrorist can get around these enhanced machines and pat-downs and even if we were to require all passengers totally to disrobe, absolute security cannot be guaranteed. Lastly, tourism officials need to point out that terrorism’s number one purpose is to destroy economies. If people stop flying due to the hassle of travel, then is it fair to ask if the terrorists have not already won?
The Tourism and Travel Perspective
Tourist and travel professionals are concerned about this newest travel hassle. Air travel has increasingly become more unpleasant since the 9-11 attacks. There is now a whole generation that has grown up with the idea that to travel is not to eat; that poor customer service is a part of the travel experience; and that airplanes are crowded, often dirty, and usually uncomfortable. Airports have made the travel experience worse. Airport food prices often approach the level of gauging, seats are often uncomfortable, and only a few airports provide free wireless service. Travelers have gotten used to removing shoes, coats, and computers, and rude and arrogant behavior has become all too prevalent throughout the industry.
Tourism officials need to know how to read statistical data and use these data properly. For example, although terrorism receives a great deal more publicity than do traffic accidents, there are many more people who die from unsafe roads, poor signage, or second-hand tobacco smoke than from terrorism attacks against transportation carriers such as aviation. Another misuse of statistics is that although a recent poll discovered that over 80% of the public approved of the new regulations, the great majority of these people had not flown since the new regulations had gone into effect.
What We in the Industry Can Do
Know where you stand on enhanced methods and then take a position. If you agree or disagree with the new regulations, it is important that you understand them and then take a position. Send letters to your local media and write to your congressional delegation and let them know your opinion. Do not write out of emotion, but rather present clear and cogent arguments to support your position. Whenever possible back your position with accurate data.
Meet with and work with your local airport authorities. It is essential to understand that the airport management is your ally and not your adversary. If people stop flying, airport personnel are out of a job. Do everything possible to make airports as pleasant as possible. Go from the mundane to the outrageous. For example, give a small token of appreciation such as a flower or a local product to every person who arrives, make a big deal out of every 1,000th or 10,000th arrival, or give a departing gift to everyone who leaves and let them know how much you want them to return.
Improve on-the-ground customer service. Remember that travel is no longer fun and, therefore, many of guests arrive tired, angry, or frustrated. Take these feelings into account, get hotels to develop flexible check-in and check-out times, or encourage restaurants to offer “happy you are here comfort foods.”
Make sure that you understand that tourism surety (safety plus security) is a lot more complicated than merely controlling who gets on airplanes. In a highly media-oriented world, anything from a sporting event to a shopping mall is a target. This is the time to work with local and state police agencies to develop both a tourism terrorism risk task force and to have an action plan ready in case it is ever needed.
Where applicable emphasize that your community has a TOPPs unit and use them to promote your economic development. A secondary consequence of the newest controversy is the fact that once again security has risen to the forefront of the public’s consciousness. If you have a TOPPs unit in your community, this is a great way to reassure an increasingly worried and anxious public. Tourism officials need to learn how to incorporate TOPPs units into their marketing plans.