Imagine the chaos that would ensue after a major natural disaster or a terror attack if the relevant authorities were not prepared. And imagine the consequences to tourism in general and specifically the tourism economy in the aftermath of such terrible events. Addressing these important questions, Israel hosted the first-ever International Tourism Security Summit in Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel to discuss the international tourism industry’s preparedness for natural disasters, terror attacks and other major crises.
Ilanit Melchior, director of tourism for the Jerusalem Development Authority and the brainchild and driving force behind the summit, told JNS that this is “the first time we are discussing this at all. Certain destinations are suffering from terrorism. We all need to sit together and develop a toolbox on how to deal with it.”
Noting that “Jerusalem used to suffer from a very negative image,” Melchior said it’s important to find a quick lane to recovery after terrorism. “It took a long time for Jerusalem to rebound after a period of terrorism,” she said.
She emphasized the importance of being prepared for catastrophic events. “At the same time, it is necessary to develop crisis management. I developed ways to deal with this. I lectured around the world and thought it would be a good idea to hold this summit in Jerusalem. Where others saw weakness, I saw opportunity,” she said. “We hope that stakeholders and leading tourism organizations such as the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) will not be afraid to discuss it. The more you communicate information to tourists, the less they will feel fearful.”
As an example of how to project calm and normalcy during a crisis, Melchior emphasized that it is important to never cancel events or PR campaigns in the aftermath of a disaster. It is also important, she said, to maintain resilience by returning to routine immediately—for instance, by preventing improvised memorials at the scene of the attack and showing a police, and not military, presence.
‘You have five minutes to recognize a real crisis’
Former Israel Defense Forces’ Spokesperson Avi Benayahu told the conference that international problems require an international solution. He emphasized that terror is a type of theater and seeks stages for its plays. “Every city should sit down, including all emergency services such as fire, police, ambulatory, hospitals, etc. … , and talk about what they are going to do in the event of a terror attack and how they will work together.”
With regard to official messaging, he said “there is no off-the-record when it comes to terrorism. You need to provide the five w’s: who, what, where, when and why.”
Benayahu advised hotel managers to use the rule of five: “You have five minutes to recognize this is a real crisis,” he said. “You need five people and no more on your team. You need five messages. Keep it simple and clear. You have five audiences: citizens, tourists, the terrorists, the workers (aviation) and the general population.”
“Hotels must be prepared and have a crisis-management book ready in the event of a crisis,” said Benayahu. “When a crisis hits, people are confused and disoriented. The book, with its prepared instructions, will guide hotels through any terror-related event.”
Focusing on the needs of tourists, Yossi Fatael, head of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Organization, said, “The tourism industry only relates to security during a crisis, and with concepts and tools for rehabilitation and recovery. The tourism industry totally ignores the subject of security, whereas in reality, security is a fixed component in tourists’ decision-making. We need to integrate ‘the elephant in the room’ that everyone ignores. Security is among the three most important elements for the average tourist … hence, the industry must develop a dedicated toolbox” to address tourists’ security concerns.
Supporting Fatael, Dan Rivlin, CEO of the Kenes Group, pointed to past incidents as examples to demonstrate the importance that authorities must attach to messaging aimed at tourists. Tourists were faced with major unforeseen events such as the 9/11 terror attacks in New York in 2001, the 2004 Madrid train bombing, the 2010 ash cloud over Europe, the 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor accident in Japan and the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and many people had no idea what to do or where to go.
“Events and disasters take place all the time,” said Rivlin. “Communication is the key.”
Isabel Hill, director of the National Travel and Tourism Office, U.S. Department of Commerce, said that “maintaining safety and security is a problem shared by an increasing number of destinations. I am sorry to say that the list is growing. Major destinations have seen a decline in tourism in recent years, but there are signs of recovery.
“A most important and often overlooked aspect is prevention,” she continued. “We should play a more active role in ensuring the safety of our nations, visitors and our industry. Economic security is a major component of national security.”
So what next?
Melchior hopes to host next year’s ITSS in Jerusalem again.
Meanwhile, she believes that the global tourism industry must establish an international forum across organizations and destinations to create a roundtable that will meet often to share ideas, concerns, knowledge and information. The tourism industry must be sitting down together at the table.
“We want to set up a formal body that can reflect on the needs” of the tourism industry, she said, “and decide what can be done.”