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10 Jan, 2014

11 Early Warnings to Prepare for the Tsunami of Change


Bangkok – Exactly 10 years ago this year, a devastating tsunami struck numerous parts of Asia, causing extensive death and damage in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and other countries with coastal areas bordering the Indian Ocean. Of the many preventive and protective measures taken in its aftermath, one of the most important was the setting up of early warning systems to ensure people have enough time to move as far away as possible from the possible impact areas.

The March 2011 tsunami that struck Fukushima, Japan, also showed the massive destruction caused by such disasters. Although the next such tsunami may not occur for years, satellite systems and on-the-ground measures are in place and ready as precautionary early-warning measures all around the region.

Such early warning systems are needed more than ever today to help safeguard people against the much bigger tsunami of change impacting the world, the Asia-Pacific region and its various sub-regions, and the travel & tourism industry as a whole.

On 09 January 2014, two leading analysts of the Asia-Pacific travel & tourism industry, Mr John Koldowski and Mr Imtiaz Muqbil, gave the first presentation of early warnings to safeguard against potentially destructive “tsunamis of change” that could disrupt the next phase of tourism development. The data, analysis and conclusions were presented to senior officials of the research and planning division of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Head of the TAT’s Research Division Mr Manit Boontham sent out an internal circular to TAT staff inviting executives of other divisions and departments to attend. About 50 attended in total.

Mr Muqbil said the presentation was designed to convey a message that researchers, planners and decision-makers have to shift the industry towards what it NEEDS to hear rather than what it WANTS to hear. “The rise of the Asian Century is seeing major changes in the way the world does business,” said Mr Muqbil. “The travel & tourism industry hears a lot about the the many emerging opportunities but not enough about the potential dangers and disruptions. Unfortunately, many industry conferences and events are becoming nothing more than mutual-admiration clubs of people preaching to the converted.”

He added, “In this new era, the agenda is no longer about creating jobs but saving jobs. It is no longer about creating growth but managing growth.”

Mr Koldowski, who provided the number-crunching part of the analysis, said the time is nigh to start changing industry mindsets about the next generation of challenges. “The numbers clearly show that just two rapidly-growing Asia-Pacific source-markets, India and China, with their millions of young people, will change just about every aspect of the way the industry does business. That can be a good thing and a bad thing, depending on how well the industry is prepared and what preventive early-warning systems are in place to deal with them.”

Said Mr Muqbil, “There are two kinds of crises these days: Man-made crises and the so-called ‘Acts of God’. Today, the border-lines between the two are rapidly blurring. Providing early warnings about these crises is the same as dealing with a malignant cancer. The more early-warning you have, the better the chances of beating it.”

Both Mr Muqbil and Mr Koldowski rued the fact that key issues often are swept under the carpet for the sake of political expediency or because industry leaders claim they are “outside our control.”

As the situation in Thailand itself clearly demonstrates, local politics and global geopolitics are becoming the key influencing factors of travel & tourism fortunes. Travel industry organisations and associations across the board can no longer afford to live in denial about this. Add to this other major challenges on the environmental, social, economic and cultural fronts, and the “tsunami of change” takes on new meaning.

Said Mr Muqbil, “The tsunami that struck in December 2004 is just one of many disasters that have hit Thailand in the last two decades. Although the kingdom always manages to beat the odds, the luxury of complacency is fading rapidly. John and I have sought to lay the foundation for a new generation of thinking that stresses the value and efficacy of early-warning prevention rather than cure.”

TAT executives expressed their appreciation to Mr Koldowski and Mr Muqbil for taking the initiative. “I have known Mr Muqbil and Mr Koldowski as Tourism Experts, so their work is always useful to TAT and also the tourism industry of Thailand,” said Mr Manit.

Others wishing to benefit from the wealth of analysis and data in the “11 early warning signs” presentation can contact Imtiaz Muqbil <imtiaz@travel-impact-newswire.com> or Mr Koldowski <johnk31@gmail.com>.