The tourism legacy of 9/11 ten years on


(eTN) – The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is a time to reflect on that catastrophic event in world history on many levels. The impact of 9/11 on world tourism has been immense. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was a massive drop in air travel, which was not confined to the USA but was global in scale. The employment by terrorists of civil airlines as weapons of mass destruction led to a global review of security measures and procedures applying to airlines and airports. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and world airport authorities set in train a set of new security requirements and measures which have bolstered airline and airport security all over the world. Although it cannot or should be claimed that airlines and airport are immune from security breaches, they have become far harder targets for terrorists since 9/11.

On the downside, the upgrading of airline and airport security led to terrorists to seek more vulnerable targets to attack tourists and tourism ranging from hotels, rail termini, tourist coaches, bus stations, buses, conference venues, restaurants, and nightclubs. Event organizers, whether we talk about mega events such as the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup to smaller events, have massively increased their investment in and attention to security.

The major international tourism industry bodies have all heeded the lessons of 9/11. IATA, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), and the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) have all developed initiatives and networks to enhance the capacity of all sectors of the tourism industry to prepare for and respond to a wide range of critical threats to tourism including terrorism, crime, natural disasters, pandemics, and political and economic shocks. The UNWTO’s TERN (Tourism Emergency Response Network) and the PATA initiative to establish the PRRT (PATA Rapid Response Taskforce) are just two significant examples of global and multinational tourism organizations mobilizing the travel industry to be prepared for and responsive to crisis events. The events of 9/11 spurred academic research and industry-wide training on all issues related to tourism risk, crises, and recovery management.

While all these initiatives are positive, the employment of crisis management expertise globally shows much room for improvement. The inept management of the tourism impact of the Egyptian uprising on tourism during the uprising period by the Egyptian Tourism Authority (ETA) is a prime example of a national tourism authority having lost reputational capital by failing to engage in the most basic crisis management practices during that confused three-week period, which engulfed Egypt during late January and early February 2011. The ETA and the Egyptian tourism industry have made a massive effort to restore the image of Egypt to travel consumers and the trade since the overthrow of Mubarak, however, my own research, based on interviews with Australian tour operator CEOs who specialize in Egypt, demonstrates that the ETA’s abysmal performance (their words not mine) during the crisis resulted in a loss of credibility for any subsequent positive messages the ETA have tried to communicate. What makes the ETA’s performance especially disappointing, is that the private sector of the Egyptian tourism industry responded with admirable professionalism during the uprising.

By contrast, the Thai Tourism Authority kept all stakeholders informed of developments during the political disturbances in Thailand during 2010, and when TAT embarked on its recovery program after the protests, recovery was rapid, and stakeholders were overwhelmingly supportive.

A long-term impact of 9/11 on tourism is about to materialize. The UNWTO is embarking on a major initiative, which will enhance the capability of tourism to manage major crises to a new level. The UNWTO has commissioned a team from Bournemouth University in the UK to develop policies and directions to better integrate tourism and emergency management. This has been practiced very effectively for years by airlines, airports, cruise lines, ports, and mega-event organizers who have worked closely with fire fighters, ambulance, medical teams, police, and rescue services. However, integrative practices have not been employed to the same extent by other sectors of the tourism and hospitality industry either at the government or private sector level, although there are some notable exceptions.

The UNWTO is seeking to develop consistent linkages between the tourism industry and emergency management agencies across all sectors of the tourism industry. This intiative, led by Dr. Dirk Glaesser from the UNWTO’s crisis management unit, with the involvement of this author will lead to a global approach towards integrating tourism and emergency management, which will apply across all sectors of the global tourism industry. The UNWTO rightly sees this as a very important tourism legacy of 9/11, because we all remember and revere the great sacrifices emergency management professionals in New York made in responding to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the vital role of emergency management professionals in subsequent crisis events in other parts of the world.

Dr. David Beirman is a senior lecturer in tourism at the University of Technology-Sydney.