SHARED SOLUTIONS FOR SHARED GROWTH

The global travel & tourism industry is one of the few, enduring sources of optimism and growth in our world today. The way in which the world is opening up to new places for discovery and engaging with different cultures, is occurring not just because of advances in technology, aviation and economic empowerment but equally so in mindsets. It is a significant change.

Travel and tourism is an industry in which vision is a fuel that turns possibility into powerful, purposeful reality.

For those of us who have committed ourselves to the promotion, protection, and preservation of the future of travel & tourism, we have an innate obligation to work together to unlock barriers and strengthen enablers for industry advancement. Additionally, we must ensure we work with governments to promote the uniqueness of each country. I do become concerned when disconnects appear between the public and private sector, and it becomes business versus government.

This phenomenon is not unique to any one country. At this very moment several countries across the tourism world are locked in struggles.

A case in point: the tourism industry in South Africa (country of my birth, and a place I remain personally passionate about as an advocate promoting my country as an exceptional travel destination) including the Department of Tourism, currently colliding with the Department of Home Affairs. The issue: new visa rules requiring biometric testing of potential tourists. Why? To put a stop to child trafficking. Only one issue – tourism and traffickers have nothing to do with one another. The regulations have become a direct deterrent to tourism yet will have minimal impact on child traffickers, if any at all. The damage is being done. At time of writing, the 2014/2015 year-end high season has lost significant traveller numbers. The ripple effect of negative impact on tourist sector earnings, jobs and competitiveness will further negatively impact an economy already in recession following strikes in the mining sector. As the damage to tourism image and arrival figures grows, the voice of the tourism sector in opposition to Home Affairs is getting louder and louder.

Still, no movement, and no signs of hope. Positions are being held firm. Business continues to increase its appeals towards government for action, feeling unheard and losing faith in leaders in highest national office.

Sadly, it happens all over the world. Issues may differ, but responses are the same. It may be visa regulations, taxation, poaching, investment attraction, development, any of a number of critical tourism sector issues central to industry growth, or decline.

So what is the solution?

The answer to this fundamental question is not somewhere out there, it is with us. We, the leaders of the travel and tourism industry, must be the solution.

The reality is this: no one in public office can ever understand the realities of the front line of travel & tourism like the people who provide the ultimate experience – tourism businesses. And so:

  1. We as the private sector need to work collaboratively as a singular voice. For an industry that contributes over 9.5% to worldwide GDP and generates over 265 million jobs, still, sadly, we have a limited voice. Which is why we must join together and work through organisations like the WTTC (http://www.wttc.org/ which The Travel Corporation (TTC), parent company of Trafalgar, is proud to be a part of as a Board Member, represented by Brett Tollman, TTC’s CEO) to ensure that we amplify our voice. Our daily work, our impact, our research, the feedback we receive from travellers is what needs to be heard.
  2. With governments, a commitment to pushing not just the problems, but also the solutions is needed. That is what PPP – Public Private Partnership, is really all about. Working proactively as partners, rebuilding trust and respect for respective roles and interests, working together to achieve shared success, can be the only way that growth potential of the sector can be leveraged for travellers, destinations and industry, across the world.

To me there is no alternative if we hope to see the future of our sector as one of truly sustainable, meaningful growth. Let’s reach out and make it possible.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA CLOSED FOR TOURISM BUSINESS – THE HEARTBREAK AND THE HEADACHES, ITS TIME FOR A VOICE OF TOURISM

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National Parks – closed. Museums – closed. Courtesy of government officials – closed. This, from a nation that refers to itself as a leader on the world stage and the world’s most desirable place to visit. Not any more.

For those of us on the front lines of travel and tourism, our job is to fulfill the dreams of the millions of travellers who invest their time, money and hopes into a ‘trip of a lifetime’. It’s these guests who turn to us to convert their dreams into reality, and who equally suffer the disappointment when it doesn’t.

The US government’s shutdown (it’s hard to actually even type these words) has put the travel industry into a horrible position. In effect, having successfully promoted and marketed ‘Destination America’, it is now closed for business including federally operated parks and institutions. National Parks – closed. Museums – closed. Courtesy of government officials – closed. This, from a nation that refers to itself as a leader on the world stage and the world’s most desirable place to visit. Not any more.

The issues around the government shutdown are complex, and go far beyond the travel sector. I understand and appreciate this. Still, the fact that a country has been forced to shut its doors to the world due to government deadlock is shameful. However, it equally exposes how insignificant a voice the travel industry has in the USA.

The travel industry has been one of the great success stories in the current economic recovery, credited for being not only one of the only growth sectors of the national economy, but equally so, a critical lever for national advancement in image and competitiveness. The following numbers tell the story.

As stated by US Travel in their 2013 ‘Economic Impact of Travel & Tourism’ study: “The United States travel and tourism industry continued to grow in 2012. After increasing 6.8 percent in 2010 and 8.7% in 2011, direct travel spending in the U.S. by domestic and international travelers grew 5.3% to $855.4 billion in 2012, not adjusted for inflation. Of this total, $726.9 billion was spent by domestic travelers (4.4% increase from 2011) and $128.6 billion was spent by international travelers in the U.S. (10.7% increase from 2011). Travel directly supported nearly 7.7 million U.S. jobs, an increase of 1.9% from 2011. Travel-generated jobs accounted for 5.7% of total non-farm employment in the U.S. in 2012.”

Select USA media reports; “The travel and tourism industry in the United States generated nearly $1.4 trillion in economic output in 2011. … One out of every 18 Americans works, either directly or indirectly, in a travel or tourism-related industry. http://selectusa.commerce.gov/industry-snapshots/travel-tourism-and-hospitality-industry-united-states

I salute the Trafalgar USA operations team who have done a remarkable job ensuring that, whenever and wherever possible, our numerous guests inconvenienced by the shutdown were still able to enjoy their time in the USA. Team Trafalgar has once again proven why we are the leading guided vacations company in the travel industry since our customers are our number one priority.

There have been many headaches –  reworking itineraries, deviating off closed roads, adjusting and readjusting bookings – but our headaches are nothing compared to the heartache being felt by travellers having to accept a Plan B or having their travel dreams go unfulfilled.

However, what resonates most profoundly with me, beyond the insanity of the US Government, is that the Tourism sector has no voice when it matters. Brand USA and US Travel stand as heavily budgeted tourism organisations seemingly championing the industry for the USA. But where are they now? How can they stand silent at a time like this?

We need to have an equivalent of a “Minister of Tourism”, who defends our industry within government, thereby ensuring that global travellers are able to visit their dream destinations in the USA unhindered and the one in every eighteen American citizens who work within our industry, are able to effectively do so.

We are a powerful, resilient and imaginative contributing segment to the economy. I see no reason that while the Democrats and Republicans continue with their finger pointing, the likes of self-sustaining attractions like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park and the monuments in DC shouldn’t be welcoming travellers rather than being closed and barricaded.

‘Closed for business’ is not an option, for tourists or for the millions working in the tourism industry.