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Tourism Security as a Marketing Tool

By Dr. Peter Tarlow
November 2012

Tourism security professionals and managers often (and justly) complain that they are considered expendable due to the fact that the other parts of the tourism industry perceive them as adding nothing to the bottom line.  In fact often tourism officials believe that security is simply and added and required expense that must be accepted, be that expense a burden. This month's Tourism Tidbits focuses on the other side of the coin, and emphasizes that not only is tourism security not simply a necessary burden that most be paid for, but if used properly tourism security is a powerful marketing took that can bring people to one's hotel, location, attraction, or community. 
Classically tourism security divides along the private/public fault line.  That is to say that tourism security is often either divided into the public (police mode: often called TOPPs units) or private (security company mode) or some combination of these two.  Large hotels often have their own security departments or have their own security officers as part of a risk management department.  In other cases, security may be the shared or may be the exclusive purview of the local police department and./or of private security professionals.  Often these people (police and private security professionals are not well trained in tourism security.
Many of them are given nothing more than a uniform and told to go out and meet the public.  This lack of training is clearly not the way to handle tourism security and often causes more problems and nightmares than help. This month Tourism Tidbits focuses on how tourism security not only should not be a necessary financial burden to a tourism business, but also if handled correctly should become a major part of that business's marketing efforts.
Tourism Security matters to the public.  Once upon a time, tourism officials were afraid that if the public viewed either TOPPs units or private security guards then their guests would wonder if there were not hidden dangers lurking and therefore become afraid.  Although there was never any research backing this perception, the common belief was that security personnel should be neither seen nor heard, that they were not to be considered professionals and that they should be paid the least amount likely.  Post 9-11 research has demonstrated exactly the opposite.  Not only does the public desire added visible security, but also that good security provides the reassurance necessary for people to spend additional money or seek return visits.

Studies, such as the one conducted in Anaheim, demonstrate that visitors count a hotel's security as an important fact in deciding between competitors.  In a study conducted in Anaheim, California several years ago, visitors reported that safety & security is a top factor in selecting their destinations.   Of those participating in the 2004 survey some 55% responded that safety & security was the most important factor, giving it the highest rating of "10."  Other studies have demonstrated that international visitors rated tourism surety even higher, with an average score of "9.3.".
  • The same factor reappeared when travelers were asked about hotel security/safety. The average rating here was "9.1" with 61% of all respondents giving it a "10."  This result ought to be a wake up call to GMs. Those places of lodging that give security a high priority are positioning themselves for economic success for the foreseeable future. Those places of lodging that choose to ignore security concerns are risking not only legal action but also risk losing money.
  • Visitors continue to make it clear that, in this "era of terrorism" and in places where there is street crime, a highly visible police and security presence makes them feel more comfortable, willing to stay on the streets longer and more likely to spend money. Cities that fail to account for the following facts are likely to lose much of their reputation.  Some of the facts to consider are:
-Tourists are lucrative targets

-Visitors often carry large sums of cash, credit cards and other valuables

-Tourists are on unfamiliar grounds and therefore more vulnerable

-Visitors are often likely to be relaxed, off guard and sometimes careless

-Tourists are less likely to report crimes, thus crime figures do not reflect reality.  What they will do is turn to social media, thus creating a marketing nightmare for the place in which they were victimized.

-Visitors rarely are willing to return to the crime's location to testify

-Tourists Areas are also susceptible to terrorism

- Repairing of a locale's reputation can be extremely costly

It is extremely costly to repair a tourism locale's reputation once lost. Many visitors report that they the feel safe when traveling, but their sense of "safe" is often distorted by media coverage (or lack of it) and distance.
Lack of familiarity breeds misconceptions.  The further a visitor is away from the spot (of bad news) the more it seems to encompass everything.  This is not only true regarding security issues but also natural disasters and other weather related issues.

Tourism security is more than merely having police patrols or a uniform that reads "tourism security".  Tourism security professionals and TOPPs officers know that tourism is a major form of economic growth and that a tourism locale's security depends on professionals who are well trained, who understand the importance of customer service and how to differentiate between the security for individual tourists and for tourists attending conventions and mega-events.  In a survey of over 700 meeting planners indicated that 77% of planners feel the safety/security of a destination is more important than any other criteria in choosing a locale for their convention or major events

About the Author:
Dr. Peter E. Tarlow is the President of T&M, a founder of the Texas chapter of TTRA and a popular author and speaker on tourism. Tarlow is a specialist in the areas of sociology of tourism, economic development, tourism safety and security. Tarlow speaks at governors' and state conferences on tourism and conducts seminars throughout the world and for numerous agencies and universities.

If you know of anyone else who might enjoy "Tourism Tidbits," please send his/her email address to, Please let us know of any topic that you would like to see covered by "Tourism Tidbits." We invite others to submit articles for consideration for publication.

All questions about "Tourism Tidbits", suggestions, or cancellations should be addressed to Dr. Peter E. Tarlow at

Dr. Peter Tarlow
1218 Merry Oaks,
College Station, Texas, 77840-2609, USA.
Telephone: +1 (979) 764-8402

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Also See: Tourism and the Law / Dr. Peter Tarlow / October 2012

Accepting Tourism Responsibility, Doing Due Diligence and Setting Standards of Care / Dr. Peter Tarlow / September 2012

Tourism and Good Health: Medical Tourism / Dr. Peter Tarlow / August 2012

Tourism Tidbits - Developing a Tourism Continuity Plan / Dr. Peter Tarlow / June 2012

Tourism Tidbits - How Can Your Guests Be Sure They Are Safe? / Dr. Peter Tarlow / May 2012

Tourism Tidbits - Protecting the Female Traveler / Dr. Peter Tarlow / September 2011

Tourism Tidbits - A Checklist for Producing Great Events / Dr. Peter Tarlow / January 2011

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