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Sun 1 Oct 2006 12:00 AM

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Travellers prove resilient to political instability and multiple terror threats

A number of high-profile events have rocked the global travel community in recent months.

The conflict in Lebanon in July and August all but obliterated the country’s tourism industry, and its neighbouring countries also felt the brunt.

Next came the terror alert at UK airports after detectives foiled a plot by terrorists to blow up aircarft bound to the US.

Flights were cancelled and security measures at many international hubs were tightened.

To top it off, the recent coup d’etat in Thailand initially sent shockwaves across the globe.

How could a country that relies on tourism, survive such political instability and how would travel and tour operators worldwide cope when one of their top-selling destinations was wiped off the map?

Instances of terrorism have also rocked Turkey and Egypt in recent months, while Indonesia is constantly facing an onslaught of barriers to tourism; earthquakes, tsunamis, political unrest and terrorist activity, to name but a few.

One would expect that as a result of these uncontrollable forces, large sectors of the travel and tourism industry directly affected by them would be facing bankruptcies and losses.

But the industry and the ever-growing travelling community are proving increasingly resilient to terrorism, natural disasters and political turmoil, as all three are becoming common everyday occurrences.

No sooner had the ceasefire in Lebanon been announced than airlines were fighting for their right to fly back to Beirut as soon as possible, and passengers were demanding a seat on those flights.

Air Arabia, for example, has reported load factors of 90%-plus and Oman Air , around 75%.

Hotels in Lebanon are gradually declaring themselves open for business again and tour operators across the Middle East are already preparing itineraries to the war-ravaged country in preparation for the launch of their forthcoming summer 2007 brochures.

Travellers who were bound for Lebanon during the conflict soon found alternative destinations, and as a result, Egypt and Turkey, despite the problems with terrorism they have witnessed, reported a huge influx of international visitors, particularly from the Middle East.

Both London and Scotland reported strong traffic growth from the GCC over the summer period, despite the terror alerts.

Asia also absorbed some of the traffic bound for Lebanon.

Although inbound arrivals to the UK for the summer period are yet to be released, VisitBritain has claimed year-on-year increases are likely, particularly in light of July 2005 London bombings, which dampened demand – how quickly then tourists forget?

And this is my point; travellers, particularly of the experienced and discerning variety, have almost become immune to the hurdles that are thrown their way.

This is good news for the travel industry, and also a testament to the way airlines, airports and tour operators in particular, respond to crises.

But contingency plans were hardly required during the recent military coup in Thailand.

Most Middle East tour operators and Bangkok-based DMCs said it was ‘business as usual’ in the Thai capital, where millions of tourists no doubt took delight in photographing the military tanks peacefully parading the city streets.

But that is not to say that the industry, or travellers, should let down their guards.

This world of uncertainty reiterates the need for travel agents and tour operators to be flexible, knowledgeable, and above all, to provide good customer service, particularly when the going gets tough.

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