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1 Jan, 2001

Huge Post-Attacks Swing Seen in Asian, Arab Travel Away from U.S., Europe

The Managing Director of a major tour operator in Saudi Arabia has forecast a sharp shift in business and leisure travel away from the US and Europe to Asia but warned that future choice of destinations by the lucrative Middle East market will depend on where Arab and Muslim guests feel welcome.

Mr Zawfir Ziard of Riyadh-based company Unique Choice, the only buyer from the Middle East to participate in last week’s Thailand Travel Mart in Pattaya, said that reports about Muslims and Arabs being discriminated against by US airlines are getting widespread media coverage in the Arab countries, and will figure prominently in travel decision-making plans in future.

Interviewed at the mart, Mr Ziard said, “The attacks came after the end of the leisure travel season from June – August and the next season does not start until the holidays after the fasting month of Ramadan (which will end around December 15). But business travel to Europe and the US has been hit by many cancellations – for this month it’s all gone.”

Asked if he feared discrimination against Arab clients in the US, he said, “Mistakes could happen, especially when there are people with the same names. You know that most Saudi names are based on their tribal and family affiliations, so it can be very confusing to those who don’t know.”

He said facing discrimination on the basis of religion and ethnicity is going to be a problem. Of his total leisure business, 80% goes to the west, including nearly all FIT travellers. “With this discrimination they are going to face, they will feel unwelcome and when they feel unwelcome, they will move towards destinations in the east. I think countries here have a very good opportunity to get business.

“We are already seeing a shift. Malaysia will become the top destination. Thailand may still be a problem out of Saudi Arabia but out of other Gulf countries perhaps less so. Indonesia could also be popular. Australia / New Zealand I am not so sure — there have been reports of an attack on a mosque in Australia.”

Another buyer from the US, Mr Louis Giuliano Jr,. President, Seven Seas Enterprises, in California, and a former marine, described Americans indiscriminately attacking people of Middle Eastern appearance as “beer-drinking, stupid, unemployed bums with an IQ of 1.”

However, he also described the perpetrators of the Sept 11 tragedy as “animals who should be beheaded, everyone of them. We are not going to take as prisoners and going to get everyone of them.”

Describing the mood in the US, Mr Giuliano said, “Right now, people are not flying for two reasons: they are just generally frightened, and because they have heard the US government saying that if there are any terrorists aboard any US plane, they will shoot it down.”

He said he came to the travel mart anyway because that’s the way he is, “very aggressive in search of business. I can get the business but I don’t know if my clients want to go.” He said he will go back and see if they are still interested, and perhaps can be wooed to fly one of the foreign airlines instead. However, he agreed that it would be a hard sell.

He said the US will recover, “as it always does from any damned thing. As soon as we see our military getting results, our country will start feeling a little better.” However, he expressed the hope that US military does not go out and bomb women and children, as “there are more lovely and nice people in the world than there are evil ones.”

“Look, I was in Dubai recently, at a conference, and there were Arabs, Israelis and Americans and I can tell you that all they want is agriculture, tourism and peace.”

Interviews with about 20 buyers at the Mart indicated the following trends shaping up:

* Travel from Asia to US and Europe is down significantly, be it for business and leisure. Many buyers are shifting to Asian destinations and Asian airlines. Hong Kong travel agents have been issued a directive to suspend all package tours to and through the United States for three months.

* Travel from US and Europe and even from other countries is on hold for the short-term as everyone waits to see what happens next. The longer the conflict continues, and the more the media coverage it gets, the more the travel & tourism industry stands to be affected.

In Thailand, a senior executive of a major hotel chain said business is already shifting away from US-affiliated chains to independent Thai hotel groups as people fear for their security.

One major concern for Thailand and Asian destinations is that an aerial conflict over Afghanistan will disrupt air-routes between Asia and Europe, all of which fly over that country. Alternative routes are hundreds of miles longer and will add phenomenally to fuel bills at a time when oil prices and currency fluctuations are already impacting on costs.

That will even more severely affect Australia, a destination that was once considered one of the most high-flying in the wake of the 2000 Olympics.

Australian Tourist Commission Managing Director Ken Boundy said, “The fallout from the Ansett collapse, the US counter-offensive on terrorism and the troubles in the global airline industry will impact on travel from international markets to varying degrees. In some markets, there is potential for Australia to gain business because of our reputation as a safe haven destination.”

He said the ATC will work with the state tourism organisations and other stakeholders to set up a Global Markets Barometer to gather vital information and share it with the industry. The ATC will also feed market intelligence into the Federal Government’s tourism industry working group that is to report to the Prime Minister in three weeks.”

“I can assure you that I and other members of the working group will be doing our utmost to develop achievable solutions to the current issues. The information we receive will play an essential role in the ATC’s future strategy to minimise the immediate negative impacts on inbound tourism and return the industry to a solid footing in the longer term.”

Mr Boundy said the ATC has already withdrawn tactical advertising in the US, Europe, Asia and Japan but remains ready to respond to changing market sentiment.

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