The silence of the tourism bosses

The tourism industry should support Turkey with international conferences despite political disputes, fvw’s Klaus Hildebrandt argues.

Should the German Travel Association (DRV) hold its annual conference in Turkey this year? This question was recently posed by tourism professor Torsten Kirstges in an open letter and has been discussed at industry events in recent weeks following the decision of travel agency group Schmetterling to cancel its planned conference in the country.

Like Kirstges, people say it is not only a question of security but also whether a conference should be held in a country whose president is increasingly autocratic and massively restricts press freedom. The industry’s opinion appears to be split.

Politics and tourism certainly cannot be separated from each other yet the industry should draw a line. Many countries are a long way from our understanding of democracy. Current boom destinations like Cuba and Iran still massively abuse human rights, according to organisations like Amnesty International.

But only offering holidays in countries with EU standards cannot be the future. In developing countries, tourism creates jobs and, in the best cases, leads to more understanding and tolerance.

The German tourism industry has so far been remarkably quiet. Tour operators do not want to endanger the first signs of a pick-up in Turkey bookings since the start of April and are happy to profit from the tourism ministry’s flight subsidies.

However, Turkey does not have a problem of price but of image, as the fvw Destination Study shows. More than a few hoteliers believe the president’s policy is scaring off tourists even more than the fear of terror.

The DRV is sticking to the planned location, the Aegean resort of Kusadasi. And that’s the right decision. It is not a case of flattering Turkey. The tourism industry, which not only delivers guests but is also a hotel investor, has to stay in dialogue with the tourism ministry. Even more important are the signals for business partners.

At the height of the Greece crisis, German tour operators demonstrated solidarity with long-term business partners in a campaign that even made it into the Greek TV news. In times of big crises, sometimes it’s necessary to make big gestures.

Keeping silent and hoping things will improve is not sufficient. The debate about the conference location has come at the right time.

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