In the last few days the dependence of tourism on the wider economy and the disruption caused by conflicts within them has been highlighted. As 500,000 British holidaymakers headed for the petrol shortages and strikes in France petrol stations in Kent – close to the channel ports – began to run low – and out – of diesel and lead free petrol at the beginning of the half-term May holiday week as drivers filled their tanks before crossing to France. Green Flag, a road side motoring assistance organisation reported that it was getting a fuel related call every six minutes.
France’s air traffic controllers took strike action, the seventh day of action in the last two months, causing flight cancellations and delays, a second strike was called off but only after airlines had cancelled flights. Easy Jet has reported cancelling 173 flights in May largely due to French air traffic control strikes and poor weather. There are concerns that labour disputes will escalate as the Euro 2016 football championship commences. The Observer’s headline this weekend was to the point “Strikes, floods, protests and sense of betrayal pile on misery for France”.
British police officers will be stationed at Eurostar terminals and travel on some cross channel trains during the Euro 2016 tournament to counter hooliganism and French special forces have been preparing to deal with any terrorist attack. In the Ukraine a French far-right extremist reported to be intending to target Muslim and Jewish places of worship in France was arrested on the Polish border. President Hollande has acknowledged the risk of a terrorist attack while encouraging spectators not be scared away by the potential threat. 90,000 security forces will be deployed. more
Travel Advisories and the threat of terrorism have deterred tourists from holidaying on the North African coast and from Egypt with serious consequences for employment, fuelling further destabilisation. Outbound tour operators have been hit too. Thomas Cook’s shares lost almost a fifth of their value when it revealed falling bookings as holidaymakers avoided trouble spots. Visitor numbers to Turkey, Cook’s second biggest destination fell 28% in April. Ryan Air and Easy Jet were forced to cut prices after the Paris attacks. Although both are also increasing capacity, an 8% increase in seats in European short-haul is expected. Despite all the problems GfK reports that total UK package holiday bookings are up 6%. Perhaps tourists are choosing packages for the reassurance of being looked after or because with economic uncertainties in the UK all-inclusives are still more attractive.
With tourism demand still buoyant destinations perceived as safer by tourists – and by governments – benefit. Business services group ICAP reports that tourism is one of only two sectors in Greece to have demonstrated resilience, in terms of gross profit margins, in 2014 compared to pre-crisis 2008. Benefitting from increased arrivals ICAP reports that gross profit margin improved from 22.26 percent in 2008 to 25.91 percent in 2014. The Institute for Tourism Research and Forecasts (ITEP) expects the growth in tourist arrivals to continue to grow, reaching between 25 and 27 million this year, but they say it is “quite possible” for the islands of the North Aegean to see a decline in tourist numbers this year because of the migration/refugee problem.
Calls for the cancellation of the Olympics because of the Zika virus have been rebutted but calls for their cancellation continue in the media. This health threat, and the consequent disruptions to the tourism sector is spreading. Puerto Rico has more than 1,170 confirmed cases, one death and the first microcephaly case acquired on U.S. soil. People have cited Zika in the cancellation of at least 42,000 hotel room reservations in Puerto Rica through 2018, which translates to about $28 million in lost revenue.
In the face of all this the tourism sector has been remarkably resilient. The UNWTO reports that international tourist arrivals grew by 4.4% in 2015 to reach a total of 1,184 million in 2015. 50 million more tourists travelled to international destinations around the world last year as compared to 2014. 2015 was the 6th consecutive year of above-average growth, with international arrivals increasing by 4% or more every year since the post-crisis year of 2010. Demand has increased despite heightened safety and security concerns.
Tourism and tourism businesses are vulnerable to changes in economic circumstances and in the face of disease, floods, strikes and terrorism – risks far beyond the sector’s control. As Taleb Rifai, SG of UNWTO, points out
“As the current environment highlights in a particular manner the issues of safety and security, we should recall that tourism development greatly depends upon our collective capacity to promote safe, secure and seamless travel. In this respect, UNWTO urges governments to include tourism administrations in their national security planning, structures and procedures, not only to ensure that the sector’s exposure to threats is minimised but also to maximise the sector’s ability to support security and facilitation, as seamless and safe travel can and should go hand in hand.”
The UNWTO’s work on resilience focuses on developing an effective emergency response to manage crisis. But for those countries facing chronic health and security issues the future is bleak – the tourists go elsewhere. Countries with a significant dependence on tourism may consequently be further destabilised.