by Harold Elletson
Tourists are a source of valuable foreign currency to many countries in the developing world. They are also, however, increasingly a target for terrorists and organised criminals.
Hijackings, hostage-takings and even beheadings in several otherwise attractive and interesting locations have hit the headlines recently, helping to deter faint-hearted tourists from visiting many places that are keen to attract them and even more keen to get them to spend their money in local hotels, restaurants, shops and markets.
President George W Bush was frequently lampooned by satirists, whose party piece was to depict him supposedly confusing ‘tourists’ with ‘terrorists.’ Yet, unfortunately, there is clearly a connection between the two. Tourism is one of the world’s biggest and fastest growing industries. It is an industry, however, that embodies globalisation. It is something that the fundamentalist enemies of pluralism, multi-culturalism, democracy and modernity loathe. Just as they hate air travel and other modern means of communication, which make the world smaller and less exclusive, they loathe tourism because it brings people together, helping them to understand and appreciate each other’s lives and cultures.
Tourism has its faults; it can be brash, insensitive and environmentally destructive. Badly managed or poorly planned, it can create just as much of a blight on an area as the construction of a new community housing project for the criminally insane. Yet, overall, tourism is enormously beneficial both to the world economy and, perhaps more importantly, to the development potential of numerous countries, seeking to escape their dependence on aid and become self-reliant and independent.
It is, therefore, high time that we started to look seriously at how we can protect tourism more effectively and, in doing so, create a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign that will bring with it an awareness of the importance of the industry both locally and globally. Winning this battle for tourism is all about education and training.
Governments and their advisers are generally ready to accept that there is a fundamental connection between tourism and security. They know that tourists are easily deterred from visiting regions which they consider dangerous or unstable.
Yet, the lamentable failure of the international community to eradicate piracy in the Indian Ocean and along the coast of north east Africa has meant that the problem is gradually creeping further south, in the process undermining efforts to develop the nascent tourism industry in several countries. In North Africa too and even as far south as the Sahel, the barbarous campaigns of local despots and terror groups, such as Al-Qaeda of the Maghreb, which claimed responsibility for the beheadings of tourists in Mali, have helped to deprive the region of significant revenue from tourism. In countries as disparate as Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia and Spain, tourists have been the victims of bombing campaigns because one or other terrorist organization has decided that they are legitimate economic targets. And, even if the bombs and beheadings do not deter tourists, then the hydra of corruption, that great engine of terror and crime, which continues to raise its many heads throughout Africa and beyond, certainly will.
What can be done? The first point is to recognise the importance of tourism and the second is to understand its connection with security. Tourism can play a major role in development. In doing so, it helps to undermine both terrorism and organised crime. However, it will never realise its full potential without a sustained campaign to educate, train and raise awareness about a host of security-related issues.
The problem was brought home to me recently after I attended a workshop on tourism issues with senior figures from the government of an African country. The discussion was very positive and focused. There was a general acceptance of the need to deal both with security concerns and with difficult issues, such as corruption, in order to change perceptions and prepare the ground for the development of a “high quality tourism industry”, which is what all the government officials said was what they wanted. When I arrived at the airport, however, I was invited to provide what might most charitably be described as a ‘pourboire’ to the jovial lady in charge of the machine scanning my luggage. The fact that the people in charge of baggage security at a major airport clearly expected to be tipped for scanning luggage before it was put onto an aircraft suggests that aviation security had not hitherto been a matter of priority.
It is surely high time for a much a greater effort to be made by international organisations, such as the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and the Commonwealth, to name but a few, to assist developing countries to raise their standards and make the most of the opportunity for growth that tourism brings. The most important assistance that can be provided is advice on how to protect tourists and secure their freedom of movement.
Much of this advice and the training that will necessarily follow it can be made available electronically in the form of distance learning programmes, which will help with the training of managers and staff. Everything from airport, transport and hotel security to emergency and crisis response can be improved by online learning programmes that have already been designed, redesigned and copied by organisations in the ‘developed’ world. And even age-old, corrosive problems, such as corruption, can be tackled by the imaginative use of new technology, as India’s imaginative, mobile-based whistleblowing scheme shows.
What we need now is to look seriously at how a real impetus can be given to the process of transferring this expertise to the right people in countries with a serious interest in using tourism for development. If we fail to address this issue, we will condemn many countries, which might otherwise have had a bright future, to exclusion, decline and despair.