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3 Oct, 2005

PATA Chief Says Geopolitical Impact Deserves Discussion, Debate

The Bangkok-based Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) last week sought to take the industry agenda into uncharted territory, noting that travel & tourism could “no longer afford to ignore” the impact of geopolitical issues and the growing perception of a religious divide.

An industry survey presented to the PATA board of directors last week said, “Membership ‘service delivery’ is no longer merely about providing access to markets, but also about helping destinations overcome the insecurity of ‘boom and bust’ cycles caused by external factors.

“If the world’s ethnic, cultural, social and religious diversity are ‘assets’ that travel & tourism promotes on a daily basis, does it make sense to look the other way as they become liabilities?”

In his presentation, PATA President and CEO Peter de Jong said these issues had even been raised in the recent U.N. General Assembly speeches by Singapore foreign minister Dr George Yeo and Malaysian Foreign Minister Dato’ Seri Syed Hamid Albar.

Said Mr de Jong to the board members, “Many of you are worried about the ethnic and religious divide and the impact it is having on the travel experience and on travel flows. And the sense of insecurity that it gives us, both personally and professionally.

“There are other issues, of course: environmental degradation, global and regional health threats, travel advisories, the cost of security, the role of the media. But the perceived ‘cultural divide’ looms large as a strongly felt concern.

“It is part of what I call ‘The Future of Tourism in an Insecure, Unstable World’ and I believe PATA needs to recognise and acknowledge it; it must begin to feature on our radar screen.”

He said that perhaps not a great deal can be done “immediately and practically.”

“But because it is causing such a sense of insecurity throughout our industry, and because we are facing this new challenge despite our economic prosperity, despite our customers’ desire to discover the world and despite our ability to reach any destination efficiently, we can no longer afford to ignore it.

“Like it or not, our industry plays a leading role in the geo-political arena. It is a role we haven’t sought, it’s role we have inherited. Now that we’ve got the role, it is time we begin to play it.”

Mr de Jong added, “Just as I would caution us not to exaggerate our influence as an industry, as a region, or as a trade association, we shouldn’t underestimate it either. As some of you in the survey suggest: ‘Let’s bring it out into the open and debate it.’ That’s a first, important step.”

He said that “while the long-standing messages that the industry is resilient, creates jobs and generates growth are true, they have become clichés. ‘Big deal,’ the industry is saying. ‘We know that’.”

“As today’s ‘problems without passports’ are beyond the capacity of individual players to solve, the industry is saying this: If individual, small entities are powerless to solve problems, can we expect large collective organisations to at least make an attempt?”

According to Mr John Koldowski, managing director of PATA’s Strategic Intelligence Centre, the PATA Total Tourism Survey was carried out between February and June this year and featured 264 responses, ranging from students to CEO’s.

He said the survey was unique in the industry because it raised questions that have been previously thought off as taboo or ‘off-limits.’

“Many issues just can’t be swept under the carpet any more,” he said. “So we thought that before charting a future course, it would be prudent to just go to the industry members and ask them what they felt.

“And we got some extremely vocal responses from an industry that is obviously concerned about these issues and wants something done about them.”

Added Mr de Jong, “The survey underscores the fact that the real strength of PATA lies in its membership, a great repository of ideas, initiatives and early warning indicators, which respondents may not always express in formal meetings but are happy to enthusiastically vent via an anonymous Internet survey.”

For example, the survey responses showed that:

• Respondents overwhelmingly felt (81 %) that the travel industry is a force for peace and that regional cooperation represents the best way to solve international problems.

• Less than 4 % (3.5 to be exact) felt that government travel advisories are balanced, with some 60 % feeling that they are updated too slowly.

• On tsunami coverage, a clear majority felt that reporting was ‘appropriate’, with only 18.6 % feeling otherwise. However, only 21 % of hoteliers felt that coverage was balanced, compared to 57.1 % in the media category.

The “PATA Total Tourism Survey: The Industry Speaks” is available to all PATA members and survey respondents free of charge, with the full report selling for US$30 to members and US$150 to non-members. To order a copy or for more information e-mail: publications@PATA.org

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