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"The Elephant in the Room"

The International Tourism Security Summit dealt with security requirements for travelers. Politicians and security experts participating at the conference were agreed: it's essential to be prepared for worst-case scenarios and to develop toolboxes for destinations to enable these to cope with such situations.

he tourism industry only relates to security during a crisis, and with concepts and tools for rehabilitation and recovery." When Yossi Fatael, Head of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Organization, on October 8 of this year delivered his opening speech at the first International Tourism Security Summit, he came straight to the subject matter bringing together in Jerusalem some 200 politicians, security experts, event organizers and representatives from diverse destinations. "We need to integrate 'the elephant in the room' that everyone ignores," said Fatael. Security is one of the three top concerns travelers have in their minds, which is why the issue must be ranked much higher on the travel and tourism industry's general agenda. "The industry must develop a dedicated toolbox."

Ilanit Melchior, Director of Tourism of the Jerusalem Development Authority, is the initiator and mainspring behind this summit. She pointed out that there are destinations which, to put it in very simple words, suffer from terrorism, and she emphasized that all of those who had assembled here are required to cooperate closely and drive international exchange to help the industry be better prepared for worst-case scenarios and help it learn to respond more appropriately to these situations. It comes as no surprise that the conference was staged in Jerusalem. Melchior pointed out that Jerusalem had formerly been suffering from a very negative image. While only 860,000 visitors had travelled to the city in 2002, 3.6 million persons traveling to Jerusalem had been counted by October 2018. "We had to learn in the past how to deal with real threats and terror," is how Melchior explained Jerusalem's experience as tourist destination.

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Topic of the conference: How should the travel and tourism industry deal with „Turbulent Times“?

Melchior, who has for years been advising destinations after terrorist attacks, among these Brussels, emphasized how important it is to have contingency plans in place in reaction to worst-case scenarios. "At the same time, it is inevitable to develop and install crisis management." In order to establish an attitude of calmness and 'normality' in a city, it's not an option to cancel events. "After the terrorist attacks at the Jerusalem Marathon 2011, we didn't hesitate for a second to have the race proceed as scheduled. Cancelling the event would have been admitting defeat." She emphasized that it's also important to demonstrate a certain degree of resistance capability by immediately returning to routine, by not admitting improvised memorial places at the scene of crime and by calling out police in force, but not military.

At the two-day conference, representatives of cities and organizations gave their reports on how they dealt with their particular crisis situations. Régis Faure (Director of Tourism) and Philippe Leclerc (Head of the Security and Safety Department) put together a list of measures taken at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrés in Cannes in context with the 2016 terrorist attack in Nice: these range from close cooperation with municipal authorities and emergency services over periodical security qualification programs for personnel and development of a municipal plan to prevent terrorist attacks all the way to extensive risk analyses prior to each event staged at the congress center.

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Ilanit Melchior is the initiator and mainspring behind this summit.

Michael Goldsmith, VP of Marketing at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, gave his presentation of the destination's communication strategy following the homicidal rampage with 58 dead and 851 injured after a lone gunman shot at the visitors of a music festival from a nearby hotel window. Lecturer Keiko Nishimoto from Kyoto University recalled the very difficult year 2011, when Kyoto was afflicted by an earthquake, a tsunami and the fallout of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, only some 100 kilometers away. At that time, cancelling the annual conference of the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH) was being discussed. Owing to close cooperation between diverse public authorities and open communication policies to inform organizers, visitors and service-providers – 'the entire communication with all event stakeholders amounted to a total of more than 40,000 messages!" –this conference with 4,000 visitors was then actually staged in Kyoto.

"Communication is the key," said Dan Rivlin, CEO of the Professional Congress Organizer Kenes Group, which attends to and stages events all over the world. "Information on the current state of affairs is crucial for visitors to any event, or else they will feel left alone. Public authorities must give top priority to message communication with tourists." He narrated the experiences with groups during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, the Madrid train bombing in 2004, the ash cloud over Europe in 2010, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima 2011 and the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. "Catastrophes are taking place all the time," said Rivlin, and that's something you can't really adequately prepare for. But it's absolutely important to collect current information to be able to provide customers with all topical and relevant data on ongoing developments and consequences.

Isabel Hill, Director of the National Travel and Tourism Office, U.S. Department of Commerce, knows well that maintaining and assuring security for the local population and tourists alike has become much more complex for many destinations in the past years. She's convinced a more active role ought to be played in assuring security for nations, visitors and industries. As one appropriate measure, she presented the U.S. Biometric Entry/Exit Program, developed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which functions on the principle of automatic facial recognition.

What made this conference so unique was the exchange of experiences between speakers and the audience. Everybody was agreed on the significance of a consistent communication strategy and close cooperation between public authorities, emergency services and security agencies. Opinions weren't as congruent when it came to the issue of how destinations might best prepare for terror attacks or ecological disasters. Ilanit Melchior suggested the formation of an international forum, calling together a roundtable for the exchange of ideas, concerns, expertise and information. "The tourism industry must sit down at a table. We'd like to establish a formal organization to consider the needs and requirements of the tourism industry and to arrive at decisions on what there is to be done."

Conference delegates were unequivocally agreed that something needs to be done, but not everyone concurred when it came to content-related alignment of such a forum. Rolf Freitag, CEO IPK International, and Hans Lagerweij, President of Safer Tourism Foundation, for example, are convinced it's much more a problem with perception than with security. "The terror threat is not as significant as it is perceived," said Rolf Freitag. In 2017, 440,000 people were killed all over the world in homicide crimes. "Only around 34,000 persons fell victim to terrorist attacks, and 50% of these were terrorist themselves." His company twice a year surveys 500,000 persons on their travel habits, and these surveys produce some interesting facts: 37% of all travelers are afraid of terrorist attacks – but only 0.000001 percent of all travelers are ever victim to such attacks. And Hans Lagerweij added a short time later: "Swimming pools are the greatest security risk to tourists!" Their conclusion: it's not so much tourist security that needs enhancement, travelers' perception should be in the focus here. Experts are agreed that perceived security is just as important as real security – this is another 'elephant in the room' you cannot just ignore.  CHRISTIAN FUNK
"The industry must develop a dedicated toolbox."
Yossi Fatael,
Israel Incoming Tour Operators Organization