by Dr. Peter Tarlow

Tourism is facing four challenges that are perhaps more threatening than at any time since September 11, 2001. What is interesting is that just as in the years prior to September 11, 2001 many tourism officials have simply chosen either to ignore threats or to dismiss them with a great deal of verbiage and little actions. Although Al Qaeda, as it was constituted some 14 years ago, is less of a threat, terrorism has evolved into new and perhaps more dangerous organizations. This month Tourism Tidbits presents some of the major threats facing the world of tourism and what the industry can do to protect itself.

-Be aware of the lone wolf. Modern terrorism is often now an offshoot of what 14 years ago was called the single cell. Lone wolves are people who belong to no organization, are “radicalized” by information gained from a variety of sources and often are willing to give their lives for the “cause” even if they do not understand the cause for which they are dying. Although one lone wolf attack will most likely not hurt a tourism center, a number of these attacks in the same location will create the impression of a chronic problem.

-The twenty-four hour media may breed hysteria. There is simply too much time spent on too little. Because the media compete with each other to be the first with a breaking story, mistakes are made, and small incidents are often blown out of proportion. The media often give the impression that a place is far less safe than it really is and this impression hurts tourism. Furthermore, due to new overload most threats and dangers are soon forgotten. Although from a marketing perspective we do not want to dwell on threats to tourism’s wellbeing, it is dangerous when those who are forced to protect tourism have also forgotten what might have take place only a few years ago.

-What we do not see may be even more dangerous than what we see. In the twenty-first century seeing is not believing. In today’s world many of the major threats to tourism come not from our physical world but from the cyberworld. Tourism is computer dependent. Computers control everything from billing to room occupancy, from flight patterns to bus schedule, from room service to credit card payments. What began with nothing the stealing of personal data and identify threat, cyber-crime, has now morphed into the potential for cyber terrorism. Most tourism centers have no back-up plan should there be a major cyber terrorism attack and the fears of Y2K are now simply a part of a history that never occurred.

-Our food and energy supplies are more vulnerable than most of us want to believe. Most people have no idea where food is produced, who is producing it or how it is handled from farm to market. This ignorance has produced a new threat. Genetically altered foods may be richer in vitamins, but alternations can be made both for good and for bad. It would not take much effort to alter foods so that they do harm rather than good. Genetically altered foods are as much a treat as are an outbreak of salmonella poisoning.

-Tourism Security professionals are woefully under-trained, underpaid and under-appreciated. Despite the vows taken by the industry after September 11, in reality not much has changed. Most police departments still do not have even a few dedicated officers to tourism security. The result is that the over billion plus tourists around the world often have little protection or as any airline passenger knows, are given nothing more than the chance to participate in “security theater”. The false sense of security is found throughout the industry.

-Remember that it costs a lot more to recover from an incident than it does to prevent one. The question that tourism officials always need to ask is “how much damage will a negative headline cost me”? Crisis management means that our risk management has failed. In a world of competing news options, we can only spin a crisis so far and marketing cannot over come a major crisis. The best way to handle a crisis is to avoid it.

-Be aware of changing social-demographics. Not only do different age groups have different needs, but also these age groups are not monolithic. The fact that we have a lost generation of young men means new potential challenges for an industry that lives on expendable income. Be careful of the social problems that a generation of lost young men may produce, especially when many of these people were raised without fathers.

-Terrorists are getting smarter. Terrorism is changing its face and attracting more educated people, many of whom are skilled in a variety of disciplines including the use of social media, marketing skills, bio-chemical warfare, and cybercrime/cyberterrorism. Many of these people are motivated and see tourism as the symbol of decadence. Tourism sites tend to be soft targets and many of tourism’s leaders live in states of denial. The mixture could be deadly.

-Be aware of additional taxes. Governments love to tax and many a politician sees tourism as low hanging fruit. The politicians’ logic is that (1) tourists are rich, and (2) visitors are not voters. Of course, most tourists are not rich and additional taxes often mean that tourists travel less frequently or spend less time at their destination. Although it is true that tourists do not vote in elections they do vote with their feet and members of the travel and tourism industries need to remind their local politicians that (1) they vote, and (2) a loss of tourism due to extra taxes translates into a loss of current sales taxes, airport usage fees, car rental fees. Adding new taxes in economically uncertain times can be highly destructive especially during a possible period of deflation.

-Attend a tourism security seminar: Here are three seminars that you ought to consider attending:

1) April 26-30, 2015

Las Vegas International Tourism Safety and Security Conference: April 2015.

Special TOPPS course given on April 26, 2015

Spanish language course will be given (if 20 people sign up) on April 27. Conference dates are: Conference April 28-19, 2015

For details or to reister go to

2) June 24-26, 2015

Willemstad, Curaçao

The all new Carribean International Tourism Security and Safety Conference

For more information, Go to:

3) November 5-6, 2015

The Europeam Tourism Security Conference Zagreb, Croatia Details forthcoming