Refugees and terrorism. The two hot topics under discussion at last week’s fvw Kongress are complex challenges. The travel industry has to go beyond words now and take action.
The impact of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants on destinations and the challenge of trying to integrate them in Germany (and other countries) appears increasingly to be a historic turning-point for Europe. It is also a central issue for the travel industry which has been slow to respond so far (apart from the notable exception of Deutsche Bahn which has transported countless people across the country in recent weeks). In Germany, for example, why cannot refugees sleep in large empty trade fair halls (which include sanitary facilities) on an emergency short-term basis instead of at crowded train stations or in wet tents?
The conference discussion between an industry representative, a destination hotelier and a German regional tourism official was an important kick-off event. But there was a lack of clear ideas or solutions about what to do. One good suggestion was the call for a joint crisis management team to draw up contingency plans for next summer. The next step, however, seems clear. Tour operators, travel agents, hoteliers and other travel companies, many of whom have a culturally diverse workforce, should now go beyond declarations of welcome and support, and launch concrete initiatives, for example with language courses or job opportunities for newly-arrived refugees in Germany.
Much more could be done to help destinations, too. The donated supplies of clothes and other goods flown out to Kos for distribution to refugees there was an excellent initiative. Now is the time for a more structured response from the travel industry. One obvious move would be to help countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon where millions of Syrians have sought refuge. Financial or practical assistance would not only support those countries in the short term but could pay off in the longer term by stabilising them as travel destinations. Moreover, investments in emerging European destinations such as Montenegro and Albania would help them develop their tourism sectors, thus providing more jobs for local people and hopefully reducing the flow of economic migrants.
Terrorism is a global challenge. Tunisia has been hit particularly hard this year with two attacks that targeted tourists directly and the country has introduced improved security measures in response. But it will take time for Tunisia to regain public confidence that it is a safe destination. Here, too, the German tourism industry can provide practical assistance with expertise gained from past international crises. A joint working group of German experts and Tunisian representatives, for example, could advise on measures to be taken in Tunisia and also how to present the destination on the German market in future.