Hulya Aslantas has a lifetime of experience in the travel and tourism industry, mainly as a travel agent and now specializing in the meetings, incentives and exhibitions sector (MICE) for the whole of Turkey. Her election recently as president of Skål International is the pinnacle of her career and she is particularly proud to hold office in the year of the association’s 75th anniversary.
“Skål International is a unique association. We do not have a competitor as it it’s the only body that covers all the sub-sectors of the industry, agents, hotels, cruise lines, the travel media and travel industry training schools,” she says. “Skål International was the first association to be founded in our industry in 1934 long before travel and tourism were recognized as a major industry. This makes Skål International unique as an umbrella of travel and tourism. It is the industry’s best kept secret.”
Skål International operates in 90 countries and 500 locations and numbers 20,000 members who are top managerial professionals and is organized in local chapters all over the world. It was founded in Paris on 28 April
1934 when a group of travel industry professionals gathered at the Hotel
Scribe in Place de l’Opera, where a wall plaque commemorates the founding of the organization. The 75th anniversary is to be celebrated with a gala event with an exhibition and conference. Aslatas is only the third woman to head Skål International. “I am especially honored to be celebrating the 75th anniversary during my presidency,” she said.
Speaking at World Travel Market in London, Aslantas said Skål International would be inviting all the stakeholders of the travel and tourism industry around the world and she is busy planning and signing up sponsors for this major event. “We are the leaders of tourism in our respective areas. In Turkey, for example we have instituted the Skål International tourism service quality awards. It is important that we have a say in the standards and quality of tourism facilities and a voluntary organization must have influence on governments and policy-makers in a way that private companies cannot when they are focused only on making money. Voluntary groups like ours along with NGOs and civil initiatives create pressure on issues such as sustainability and responsible tourism. We help to raise awareness.”
“The way we do this is to keep these topics alive. We can do this by educating our stakeholders and governments, not just travel agents but every part of the travel and tourism industry. Skål International makes an important contribution to sustainability, by advocating the right strategies. If not Skål International then who would do that?” says Aslantas.
It was not always the case. Up to the 1960s Skål International was a prestigious, privileged club for senior figures, all of them men, who met in city chapters rather like the Rotary, and discussion of business was forbidden. It was a very conservative clique. Then things changed and Skål
International opened up to business-related networking and admitted women members. The first women president was Mary Bennett from Ireland who instituted the practice of adopting a presidential theme – hers was to work through Skål International towards the ideal of friendship and peace through tourism.
Hulya Aslantas has continued the tradition. “My presidential theme is to make Skål International a major tool for bridging cultures,” she says. “We are the leaders and must care about the sustainable growth of world tourism and ensure it is responsible. Tourism alone does not bring peace – tourists need to meet and mingle with the people and cultures of their hosts. There is a great danger that visitors stay behind big walls in tourist compounds devoted to sun, sea and sand and might never interact with local people apart from hotel employees. When interaction is missing, tourists don’t return home with a proper impression of the culture of the place they have visited. Peace will progress when we realize that we have more similarities
than differences, and prejudices are challenged,” she said.
“Sustainable tourism includes interaction with local people and their social environment. We should all aim to bridge the cultures, and Skål
International is in so many locations, encouraging travel and tourism professionals to work together, that we have great potential to take leadership of the drive for cultural exchange.”
Hulya Aslantas said she is aiming to devote her year of office to spreading the word that travel professionals have a responsibility to promote the values of travel and tourism in a cultural context and not just for profit. Tourism, she says, is developing in a rapidly changing world and should lead to a greater understanding among peoples and be a tool for world peace.
Historically, the second woman to be at helm of Skål International, Litsa Papathanassi, spearheaded the sustainable development theme for the respected organization. Aslantas, as the third woman president, is bringing the same core values and is carrying on the legacy Papathanassi has started, but is adding the dimension of “bridging cultures” to her theme.