Another week, another World Travel Market and each year I can’t fail to notice the footprints of some geographical areas continue to shrink, and the quality of stands gives off a tired and ‘must-we-be-here’ vibe. But there are still lots of growing footprints with big-ticket stands, some with intimidating fortress-like walls into which only the very brave, or hungry will enter.
What was surprising, was the number of enormous stands representing what I would call ‘challenging destinations’. Others may prefer the ‘emerging destinations’ label; Iraq, Iran, Libya, Lebanon and Palestine to name but a few – alongside some well established destinations – Tunisia, Egypt, Mexico and Kenya that are facing political circumstances and market barriers that have resulted in a steep decline in visitor numbers for some, whilst for others, a loss of confidence that must be keeping their tourism ministers awake at night.
The refrain from the stands and in the press releases is that the violence is not aimed at visitors, but is either between rival political factions (aka militia), in a part of the county that visitors never go (or cannot reach), or is never in the resorts. Egypt is in the process of installing webcams at popular destinations in an attempt to persuade potential visitors it is safe to visit. I will be watching this one with interest to see how quickly a key site like the pyramids fills up again. Will potential visitors also be watching the webcams until the crowds return and only then will they book?
Another popular line is that the millions who work in the tourism industry are relying on me to support them and visit their places of work and buy their products. This is playing with my guilt as a consumer living in a developed nation. I should be out there supporting tourism colleagues and those in need shouldn’t I? Well no. Not if mine or my families safety will be in question.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office gets a regular bashing as their FCO travel advisories are not simply overturned because the tourism ministers says it should be. It would be interesting to know the proportion of travellers who ignore these advisors and visit anyway.
There are specialist tour operators offering tours to these destinations, and I expect their clients are well up for some hardship, lumpy beds and long bus journey’s, but then the rewards and bragging rights will be exceptional.
Fewer gimmicks, fewer platitudes and more straight-talking could reassure potential visitors about the safety of these destinations. How are the tourism ministries themselves engaging in government dialogue and lobbying? Where are the insights into what is actually happening in their countries? How is this affecting the visitor experience? What do the locals have to say about it? Tackle the negative perceptions some consumers have and reassure us you are not just applying a sticking plaster over a gaping wound by directing us to look at your webcams.