On UK riots, “prophet of gloom and doom” gets it right

To say that the recent string of violent demonstrations in the United Kingdom comes as a surprise is to admit that one has not been paying attention to the signs of rising tension among Brits - youths

On UK riots, “prophet of gloom and doom” gets it right

To say that the recent string of violent demonstrations in the United Kingdom comes as a surprise is to admit that one has not been paying attention to the signs of rising tension among Brits – youths, in particular – which has been building in recent months.

Last November in London, during the yearly World Travel Market (WTM), thousands of college students took their frustrations to the streets. According to reports, approximately 30,000 to 52,000 protesters attended that initial demonstration on the streets of central London. These students were reported to have come from various parts of the country including England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Flashed on the television screens all over the media center at ExCel Exhibition Center, where the WTM was being held, were sporadic acts of violence and vandalism. Some protesters and police officers had to be hospitalized, according to various reports.

Significantly, in March this year at the yearly ITB Berlin, the world’s largest annual travel and tourism exhibition, eTN spoke exclusively to Professor Geoffrey Lipman, the chairman of greenearth.travel, who, because of the nature of his forecast, reluctantly admitted to being some sort of a “prophet of gloom and doom.” During that March, Mr. Lipman said: “It is highly possible that in the second half of this year, we will have social disruptions in Europe as a consequence of the budget austerity, coupled with rising fuel prices and rising food prices.”

Most notably in that March 2011 interview, Lipman, whose former job was assistant secretary general of the UN World Tourism Organization, said: “The jury is out on what the young people do in Europe when they feel the budget bite. I mean, in the UK, France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Italy.”

He also then noted that “the positive reaction to this is that already there are stimulus packages; they did a lot of things where the stimulus was actually related; they never said it was tourism. But, when you have fast trains, that’s all about tourism. When you have super highways, that’s not for commuting, it’s about tourism. When you build airports and ports, it’s all about tourism.”

CLICK HERE to view a clip from eTN’s March 2011 interview with Geoffrey Lipman.

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While there is never really a good time for violent demonstrations, the recent events have put the UK government in a particular predicament, as the country is well on its way in its preparations for hosting the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, which in itself has become a subject of controversy. UK tour operators have been vocal in their opposition to London hosting the Olympics, even going so far as to arguing that the event “will damage tourism.”

Among those, a most ardent opponent of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games is the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA). When asked for statement on the recent riots and its possible impact on the Olympics, ETOA said: “Events like these have occurred in western cities such as LA, Madrid, and Paris. Those in the UK are abnormal, and so newsworthy, even this August. But they have been largely confined to secondary shopping centers in the suburbs. No iconic landmarks have been affected. So long as the damage is contained outside of central London, then there will be little long-term impact on demand for London as a tourist destination.”

ETOA said its members handle tens of thousands of visitors to London. “So far, none have been caught up in the current problems. London is still one of the safest and most vibrant tourism destinations in the world.”

The London-based organization added: “What is most striking about these events is the restraint displayed by the British police. The care shown for human life over that of property is deeply impressive: a positive image of a nation’s institutional ability to cope with adversity.”

In response to the question, “Will this impact the Olympics?” Tom Jenkins, ETOA’s executive director, said: “No. The Olympics is, overwhelmingly, a domestic event. British people won’t be put off from visiting the Olympics in Stratford because a year earlier, shop windows were broken in Hackney.”

UK’s tourism authority, VisitBritain, has said it doesn’t have any plans to issue an official statement concerning the riots. However, David Leslie, spokesman for VisitBritain chairman Christopher Rodrigues, told eTN: “Obviously we’re keeping a watching brief about what is going on and monitoring the impact with both the industry here in the UK and through our overseas network. “

As for the “prophet of doom and gloom” himself, Prof. Geoffrey Lipman, eTN has scheduled a follow-up interview with him, which is set for publication in the next coming days. Stay tuned!

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