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20 Jul, 2016

How the Spineless Travel & Tourism Industry Rewards Failure

The annual Global Travel Price Outlook just released by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) is positioned as a comprehensive look at travel pricing and the macro-economic influencers that drive it. In addition to forecasting weaker-than-expected performance for all major global economies well into 2017, the report cites a range of inter-related geopolitical risks on the horizon.

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The report’s primary conclusion: “Uncertainty is key theme for year ahead.” Its bottom-line recommendation: “The key to success in travel planning and budgeting is continued adaptability and flexibility.”

Nearly every trends report these days says the same thing – all shallow, band-aid solutions based on a parochial worldview. In medical parlance, it’s like the doctor telling a terminal patient, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”

Uncertainty, instability and insecurity are not supposed to have occurred in the 21st century. The end of the Cold War in 1989 was supposed to have ushered in an era of near-nirvana under the global leadership of the free-market democracy, the United States.

Not only have the rosy forecasts fallen flat, the future outlook too seems to be equally chaotic.

If that is not a desirable outlook, averting it will require a deeper look at the factors driving it. All of today’s geopolitical and economic problems are man-made. Unless the men (and women) creating them face the wrath of accountability, they will simply stay the course.

“Adaptability and flexibility” is NOT a sustainable path to success. Accountability is.

The predominant cause of geopolitical uncertainty is the “war on terror”. Fifteen years since 9/11, it is a complete failure. The travel & tourism industry lacks the backbone to demand accountability. Issuing toothless condemnations of the ceaseless terrorist attacks is an insult to the intelligence of the travelling public. The public deserves answers and solutions, not mere condemnations.

The safety and security apparatus faces no accountability for its failures. The recent report by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Countering Violent Extremism makes a clear case for differentiating the symptoms from the cause. The responsibility for making the world a safer place by negotiating solutions to the conflicts which spawn terrorist violence falls on the shoulders of diplomats and politicians. In turn, the security apparatus, such as the police, homeland security and intelligence agencies, is supposed to pre-empt would-be terrorists from striking.

Both have failed.

Travel & tourism is being taken for a right royal ride. The public is spoon-fed a steady stream of disinformation. Lies repeated often enough become the truth. Many such lies deserve closer scrutiny.

What exactly is this creature called ISIS? Or is it ISIL? Or Daesh? How did such a monster organisation emerge in spite of 15 years of war against Al Qaeda, which involved dozens of homeland security agencies, intelligence units and “private contractors” (mercenaries), backed by financial curbs, sanctions, arms embargoes and rigid travel restrictions?

Clearly, they failed. Now, we are to believe that ISIS is a better-organised and -funded organisation which can attack at will and even operate a “news agency” to claim responsibility? Intelligence agencies appear to have infiltrated it well enough to know how it treats “sex-slaves” but they can’t seem to prevent it from communicating with its global “soldiers”?

To order, plan, finance and prepare an attack requires extensive communications exchanges over several months. Intelligence agencies fail to monitor any of it? How is it that they seem to know everything about the perpetrators IMMEDIATELY AFTER the attacks, but apparently not BEFORE?

Every now and then, reports appear about people being nabbed for trying to “join ISIS?” Really? To which country are they headed? How do they get there? Apply for a visa? Who arranges the logistics? Who is funding them? Training and arming them? Paying for their food & accommodation?

What are these terrorists hoping to achieve by attacking nightclubs, restaurants and airports? The Orlando attacker was anti-gay? The guy who ploughed a truck into the Bastille Day revelers was trying to achieve what? Create an Islamic state? How exactly will killing people at a gay club, an airport or a parade help achieve that?

And what’s next? X-ray machines at restaurants and nightclubs? More racial profiling and background checks?

Why is the security apparatus never challenged about these failures? It keeps demanding more money, power and authority, with less accountability for violations of human rights and targeting of innocent people. But it has little to show for it.

The International Air Transport Association now wants expanded security on airport landsides. Assuming there are 10,000 airports all over the world, that will generate a tidy revenue stream for suppliers of security equipment.

Double standards worsen the problem. If the perpetrator has a Muslim name, it is automatically tagged an “act of terror”. When Americans shoot police officers, or otherwise kill people in offices, malls and colleges, they are just “shooters”. In India, Kashmiri Muslims are “terrorists.” In Northeast India, they are “naxals” or “left-wing extremists.” In Europe, they are “right-wing extremists.” Never “terrorists.” Why?

No wonders many Muslims believe the “war on terror” is a thinly-disguised “war on Islam”. Of course, it’s never openly called “a war on Islam”. It is euphemistically called a war on “radical Islam”, or “political Islam” or “Islamists”. In the United States, presidential candidate Donald Trump can attack Muslims openly. In Australia, former anti-Asian politician Pauline Hanson is back in the public limelight after winning an election on an explicitly anti-Muslim platform.

Islamophobia has facilitated the rise of right-wing extremists. It is only a matter of time before another nutcase like the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Brevik or a member of the Ku Klux Klan goes on a rampage and starts shooting Muslims. Will that person be called a terrorist?

Meanwhile, chaos continues in the rest of the Middle East. Israel remains on course to wipe Palestine off the map. Afghanistan and Iraq, both attacked respectively by the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” in 2001 and 2003, are still in shambles. Syria and Libya, more recent targets of the regime change agenda in the Islamic world masterminded by the Project for the New American Century, are in an equivalent mess.

After 9/11, former U.S. President George W. Bush II said the terrorists “hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” Worldwide, those freedoms are under siege. The junior Mr. Bush faces no accountability for his fatally flawed decisions.

The biggest winner is the military-industrial complex, the global version of the U.S. National Rifle Association, aka the gun lobby. The U.S. cannot control gun violence at home and remains by far the biggest global exporter of military hardware. Violence and conflict is a major job-creator and driver of economic growth. No matter which side wins the battle, the military-industrial complex wins the war.

As the world witnesses attack after attack, each of which hurt travel & tourism, some soul-searching is long overdue about when and how it is going to end. If the industry accepts the well-known adage, “In times of war, the first casualty is truth,” it needs to initiate a serious, comprehensive debate about accountability, check-and-balance mechanisms and progress reports.

Sadly, travel & tourism will remain a victim of its own spinelessness. In the absence of such accountability, the next report GBTA-CTW report on travel pricing will continue to report more uncertainty. “Adaptability and flexibility” are not sustainable, long-term solutions to anything. They never will be.