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Tuesday, 18 September, 2001, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
What now for tourism?
Tourism
Widespread consequences for tourism
By BBC News Online's consumer affairs reporter Sarah Toyne

The 22nd World Tourism Day is scheduled to take place in Iran on 27 September.


This horrendous, random attack has been done with aeroplanes, in a travel context. It is clearly going to take the bottom out of travel

Geoffrey Lipman, former president of the World Travel & Tourism Council

Its motto, "tourism: a tool for peace and dialogue among civilisations", and geographical focus have become particularly poignant following the terrorist attacks on the US.

Mass tourism, although resilient to major world events in the past, is facing its greatest challenge yet, experts believe.

Financial analysts predict that the events of 11 September will have devastating economic consequences for the tourist industry.

It will also lead to a fundamental shift in the way we behave as tourists, whether travelling to the south coast of England or the Far East.

Barometer effect

Recent events which have affected tourism habits include the Gulf War in 1991 and the terrorist attacks on Luxor, Egypt in 1997.

During the Gulf War, countries in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean suffered heavy drop-offs in tourist visits.

Experts predictions: Short-term
Business travel will fall, leading to an overall drop-off in consumer demand
Cheaper fares because of empty seats and vacancies
More local travel within Europe and UK, rather than the US and Middle East
Widespread economic impact because tourism is so labour intensive

In Cyprus, for example, a popular destination close to the Middle East, numbers fell to 2.94m in 1991 from 3.38m in 1990.

Mainland Europe also suffered. The number of tourists from the Americas visiting the continent was, at 5 million, 23% down on the year before.

However, experts believe that the implications of last week's attacks will be considerably more detrimental.

"[This is] not only because of the devastation caused by the American attacks but the simplicity of the attack," says Professor John Fletcher, a tourism economist and editor in chief of the International Journal of Tourism Research.

"It means that everyone is more vulnerable and people will feel much more so than ever before."

Special case

"We should not jump to conclusions," World Tourism Organisation Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli says.

"We have learned from experience that the industry recovers very quickly from adversity."

But the immortal footage of passenger jets being used as weapons of mass destruction, is likely to have a lasting impact on the confidence of tourists.

Geoffrey Lipman, former president of the World Travel and Tourism Council and government adviser, says that the terrorists' use of such a fundamental travel mode is "clearly going to take the bottom out of travel".

Dependency

Business travellers and tourists are already making their own protests against the attacks - as consumers.

Experts predictions: Long-term
Growth of tourism will slow down because travel will become more expensive
Widespread economic impact because tourism is so labour intensive

A US report conducted two days after the atrocities indicated that half business travellers would take fewer overseas business trips in the future.

The survey, by market research firm Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown, also found that almost 60% of leisure travellers would take fewer overseas trips.

It is the reactions of Americans that are most worrying for the travel industry.

According to Sean Tipton of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), Americans' travel plans are traditionally more reactive to world events than Europeans'.

"We are quite resilient," he says. "Most of Europe has had some form of terrorist problem although not on this scale, whereas America hasn't experienced this before."

UK's woes

The UK's tourism industry will be one of many sectors hit - Americans constitute the largest group of travellers by country to UK.

According to Elliott Frisby of the British Tourist Authority (BTA), a decline in the 3m American visitors to the UK would be a "serious blow", especially following so soon after the foot-and-mouth crisis.

There are already calls for more government help for a tourism industry which accounts for 10% of the UK economy.

For the UK, the implications will depend largely on how closely other countries associate the country with America.

The BTA has already received reports from Japan indicating that people are now more reluctant to travel to the "West".

"We are now embarking on a consultation exercise with our 27 offices around the world to try to discover whether people are as worried about travelling to the Britain as they are America," says Mr Frisby.

Worldwide effect

And the impact of a tourism downturn will not only affect big corporations.

Tourism is a labour intensive industry. So any boycott by Western tourists would have serious repercussions for some of the world's poorest economies - many of which are becoming increasingly dependent on tourism.

"People welcome tourism because people spend across a wide range of sectors," Professor Fletcher says.

"This means that the economic impact is very widely spread, probably more so than in many other industries."

While Britons are likely to reply to the terrorist attacks with fewer visits to the US, there could be serious repercussions for Middle Eastern economies, which have increasingly attempted to promote themselves as safe and idyllic destinations.

Ironically, there could be a boom in European tourism - and while some people fear that it will be a massive blow for UK tourism, others are more optimistic.

"It may end up being a positive thing for the UK market - as people focus more on travel nearer home," says Mr Lipman.

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