Technology, politics, culture and global events have had a profound impact on the way people perceive travel in 2016, as well as the way they shop for trips and the way successful travel companies generate new business. The Group Travel Leader spoke with the heads of four tourism industry associations to get their perspective on the forces shaping the travel industry today.
Carylann Assante, Executive Director, Student and Youth Travel Association (SYTA)
Terry Dale, President and CEO, United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA)
Pam Inman, President, NTA
Peter Pantuso, President and CEO, American Bus Association (ABA)
This year has been full of troubling events, both in the United States and abroad. What message should our industry as a whole be spreading about the safety and security of traveling during these times and the impact that tourism can have on society?
Inman: We have witnessed a rash of violence everywhere, but we find that people are still traveling.
There are three levels of safety. All of us have to become more alert to the safety of situations around us, and our own attention is that first layer of safety. Tourism professionals provide a second layer of protection because they update their procedures and their response plans. They monitor the news and government advisories, and they work to keep their groups out of harm’s way. And governments are ratcheting up security measures to provide a third level of security.
Even with all of that, there are no guarantees. But even in the safest of times, there are always risks associated with the rewards of travel. And one of the rewards is that we build bridges between people and cultures.
Pantuso: My message would be consistent with what I’m doing in my own life. The world cannot stop because there are unfortunate, crazy, unscrupulous incidents going on. Travel is a freedom and an opportunity that we have in North America to see and understand the rest of the world and how it works. Travel goes a long way toward breaking down barriers and misunderstandings.
If we stop what we’re doing and all hole up in our respective bunkers, all it does is give the terrorists and others who want to do harm a platform. We’ve given in to them at that point.
Dale: First and foremost, I think a stronger case can be made today for traveling with a USTOA member than ever before. We provide a safety and security net, so that when you travel, if something should happen, you have on-the-ground professionals who know the landscape locally and can address the situation immediately. They can get the customer to safety and ultimately back home.
The message is to continue to travel; make sure you’re doing it with a reputable company that has your well-being in mind. So if you face one of those unfortunate situations, you’re going to be fine.
International travel really fosters and creates a cultural bridge of greater understanding. We are all citizens of this planet, and we’re all more similar than we are dissimilar. That’s the beauty of travel — it creates greater understandings and tolerance. We need and want that to continue, but we also have to protect and provide a safety net.
Assante: As travel leaders we can’t guarantee anyone’s safety. But what we can do is encourage travelers to utilize the resources that are available to them to make good judgments about where they travel. That’s visiting the Homeland Security website or visiting the CDC website to look into info about Zika. We encourage people to plan ahead and use those resources.
You can also look for destinations that aren’t on that radar. For instance, some of our student groups are switching trips from Paris to Ireland. Or if they’re studying French, they switch from Paris to Montreal or Quebec City.
The third and most important thing is that travel really does help break down cultural barriers. When people travel they become more empathetic and understanding of other cultures and places. It’s more important now than ever.