Prof Frangialli doesn’t speak out often. The three-time UNWTO Secretary-General from 1997 – 2009 spoke publicly in November of 2021 on this platform together with Dr. Taleb Rifai, the UNWTO Secretary-General who served after him, when both circulated an open letter with an urgent warning on manipulation by the current Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili in securing a second term as head of UNWTO. This letter was part of an advocacy campaign by the World Tourism Network (WTN).
Frangialli is no longer quiet about the wars
Frangialli is without question one of the most senior, knowledgeable, and respected leaders in the global travel and tourism world and is no longer quiet about the escalating wars in Ukraine, Russia, Israel, and Palestine, and its consequences for the travel and tourism industry.
The former 3 term UNWTO Secretary-General writes:
We are passing through a hard and rarely-seen period. After the one which began one year and a half ago with the sudden attack of Ukraine by Russia, tourism is facing a new war – what happens is so brutal, deadly, and massive that it’s impossible not to use the word WAR.
This terrible crisis which started with the terrorist attack on the 7th of October, takes place at the moment when international tourism was showing the signs of a powerful rebound.
From UNWTO statistics, the Middle East registered the strongest performance among all the regions of the world since the beginning of 2023. A chance has been lost. We can only have regrets.
It’s too soon today to know with certainty to which extent the main destinations of the Middle East will be affected.
Let’s however make some predictions.
Egypt, which is neighboring the Gaza Strip, is trying its best not to be directly involved in the conflict. It may succeed or not.
The chance for Egypt is that its tourism product and the image resulting from its glorious past are very specific. I would not be surprised if this war which is raging at its border causes in the end less damage to the tourism industry than a terrorist attack against its visitors, as they took place on several occasions, in Cairo, Luxor, or Sharm-el Cheikh.
Saudi Arabia Prediction
Saudi Arabia is also a very special case since most of the visitors come on the occasion of the Pilgrimage. This new destination on the world map should be less severely hit by what is occurring in Israel and Gaza than by what has happened with Covid when the country had to close its borders completely
Dubai, UAE Prediction
Dubai and the Emirates are far from the epicenter of the conflict. On the condition that Iran does not fall -or engage itself- into the maelstrom, this emblematic destination may be spared by the tragedy.
Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Jordan
Let me add that what will happen with tourist destinations such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, or Turkey, in case they have to face huge and violent demonstrations in the streets, will depend on the resilience of their societies, the sense of responsibility of the media, and the ability of their governments.
The Role of the Media
In such crises, a fundamental element is the media coverage and the role of social media. What’s important is not the event itself but its perception by the consumers, in our case, by the potential travelers from the major generating markets.
We learned from Marshall McLuhan that – I quote – ” the medium is the message. “
Bomb Attack Great Bazar Istanbul
Some years ago, two similar bomb attacks took place one after the other in the Great Bazar of Istanbul. The first time, a team of CNN was there, just by accident, and the impact on the destination was very hard; the second time, no TV coverage, and almost no consequences for the tourism sector.
In such emergency situations, you have a single card to play: Transparency.
The Tunisia Synagog Attack
Let me take the example of Tunisia. A violent terrorist attack took place in 2002 at the La Ghriba synagog on the island of Djerba, causing several casualties. The government tried to pretend that the explosion was accidental. But the truth came rapidly to light, and the authorities had to confess the reality and apologize.
Tourism in Tunisia collapsed, and the full recovery took many years. The same kind of terrorist attack against the same monument and its visitors was repeated in May this year; this time, the government did its best to be transparent, and the impact on tourism was limited to the very minimum.
What I am going to say may appear awful to you.
Since it started, this new tragedy has resulted in several thousand deaths. It’s horrible, but it has nothing to do with the scale of the civil war in Yemen for which direct and indirect casualties amount to some 250.000. But, in the case of Yemen, there is almost no media coverage, and the conflict is widely ignored.
The Impact of Tourism in Israel, Palestine & Jordan
Dear friends, the impact on tourism in the Holy Land – Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan all together- is going to be terrible, because of the violence that we are seeing, because the military operations in the Gaza Strip are likely to last for weeks or months, and because of the intense media coverage. This is inescapable.
I am sad like all of you for the innocent victims who have lost their lives on both sides, and for those who have been taken as hostages, and for their families. I am sad also for those living in tourism. Many businesses will disappear, and many people will lose their jobs.