Tourism crisis management is worth attention [Archives:2005/864/Reportage]

August 1 2005

Tourism is an industry without smoke. Many peoples around the world depend on it heavily because it is lucrative, and does not require large capitals. Our country, which enjoys a large number of tourist advantages such is its cultural heritage and natural attractions, should focus on this key sector that can generate numerous job opportunities and beef up the public treasury.

One important recently introduced concept in tourism is crisis management. In this interview, Mr. Khaled al-Duais, of the Ministry of Tourism, is going to shed light on crisis management, its significance and how it can contribute to the prosperity of the national tourism.

Q: What made you particularly interested in crisis management?

A: In today's world, tourism crises are becoming more frequent and more visible. At the current time, tourism in Yemen is in crisis. Through my experience in the tourism field in Yemen I felt that an immediate action is required to save the industry from collapse. I thought that the starting point to start with was this research. Another motive for writing this research was to help fill some of many gaps, which exist in the Yemeni tourism literature. This lack motivated me to conduct my research focusing on the crisis management theories and its applications in tourism sector. It is a hope that the thesis may provide some contribution to identify the present lack and to propose some possible improvements and solutions in the field.

Q: Who are the partners in crisis management? Is the State solely responsible for it?

A: In such a crisis time, it is the responsibility of everyone, not only the government but also all other relevant authorities and organizations (communications; promotion; safety and security, and market research). Due to the limited time in which to respond, crisis management requires a decisive and quick action. From this point, a crisis management team should be formed from all relevant authorities and organization including the public and private sectors. It is also important to have a kind of integration and understanding among those people who will act as a crisis team.

Q: What does crisis management in tourism mean?

A: Tourism as any other activity could be affected by any crisis at any time. Today, Crisis Management is a common term in the tourism industry and has become particularly important for those countries heavily dependent on tourism as a source of income. Crisis management strategies and plans are needed to help retain the confidence of the travellers and to minimize the impacts of a crisis on the tourist destination.

Crises affect the tourism sector on different levels, internationally, regionally, or nationally and sometimes the affect is only restricted in local area. In most cases, a tourism crisis will affect an entire country. The tourism sector could be affected by two main types of crises. Crisis that arises from inside the tourism sector itself, and crisis that, resulted form other crises in other sectors. The inside crises could happen as a result of one of the following:

– Lack of a clear policy for the tourism sector;

– Absence of marketing strategies which create a balance between the supply and the targeted demand;

– Slow tourism development that could not go in parallel with the increased demand;

– Tourism development with out enough demand;

– Lack of cadres and skilled employees;

The other type of crises that arises from outside the tourism sector could be summarized in the following:

– Political crises and conflicts especially when they lead to international wars, a good example for that are the gulf wars.

– Internal conflicts and national wars.

– Ethnic conflicts and clashes.

– Criminal act or crime wave, especially when tourist are targeted.

– Health concerns related to epidemics and diseases, which impact on human directly or diseases affecting animals, which limit access to the tourist destinations.

– Acts of terrorism, especially those directed at or affecting the tourists.

– Natural disasters, which have impacts on the tourism infrastructure.

Q: What are the crises that happened in Yemen and how were they addressed? Were they properly tackled? If not, what other procedures that should have been taken?

A: Yemeni tourism industry has experienced numerous cases of crises. International, regional, and local crises have led to a decline in the growth of tourism over the past 15 years in Yemen. The country has experienced two main kinds of crises: internal to Yemen civil strife in 1994, the unfortunate death of a number of kidnapped tourists 1998 and the attack on USS Cole 2000 and external that have been outside the control of the government like the Gulf War 1990, September 11th and its aftermath, the continued Palestinian/Israeli conflict, AL Qaeda issue, and currently the War on Iraq.

The most serious effect of these tensions especially the September 11th events was the damage done to Yemen's international image. This negative image was reflected on the flow of international arrivals to Yemen. Yemen became perceived as a dangerous place where tourists could be targeted any time. The subsequent war on terrorism and the tension resulting from the last intervention in Iraq prolonged this uncertainty even more. The September 11th event caused a decline in investment flows, and a sharp decrease of tourism in Yemen. According to the Ministry of Tourism and Environment statistics 2002, Yemen experienced a sudden 32% drop in the international tourists after this event and as a consequence Yemen's tourism sector has lost more than USD 250 million due to those incidents. Many tour operators have closed their business and laid-off staff, and numbers of hotels are offering low prices. Concerning the other part of your question, both the public and private sectors have faced some obstacles and financial constraints in formulating an effective marketing communication strategy to address this challenge. The research outlines the strategy of the Yemeni public & private sectors as they have attempted to minimize the loss of tourism experienced in Yemen since the September 11th. It carries a discussion of the approaches taken by the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board as a responsible agency on representing Yemen out and inside.

In my thesis I have listed some procedures that should have been taken; I will mention them here briefly:

– A crisis management plan should be prepared and merged with the general tourism policy of the government in order to be a framework for the whole relevant organizations in the state. It is recommended also that the government should establish a crisis management centre within the structure of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

– Various policy components are necessary to help government cope with tourism decline. For the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board, a starting point could be preparing a tourism crisis management plan that maintain and prevent the current tourist flow from declining. This could be coupled with an affirmative action to educate officials and private sector on the issue of crisis management in tourism industry. In the absence of Tourism Crisis Management Plan in the very short term, some crisis guidelines are suggested to help the tourism authorities as a starting point for maintaining and preventing the existing tourist flow from declining.

– The government represented by the Tourism Higher Council and Ministry of Tourism and Culture should guarantee the funding for appropriately marketing and promotional campaigns. The method of funding the Tourism Board needs to be reviewed and redesigned to provide guaranteed funds. Tourism authorities are also asked to enforce the role of the Tourism Promotion Fund. Yemen Tourism Promotion Board should be equipped with appropriate resources including: financial and human to liase with the country's tourism private sector to establish a number of marketing and promotional measures.

– Marketing and promotion activities should focus in the short term on the intra-regional markets especially for the Gulf States countries. On the mid-term tourism authorities should focus on maintaining the presence in the major markets in Europe. And on long term should focus on finding alternative markets and segments like Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia. A special attention should be paid to develop the domestic tourism that can be a good alternative during the crisis time.

– The high level of cooperation and coordination between the Yemeni tourism industry's public and private sectors will play as a key element of success to manage and recover from any potential crisis. Therefore, a complete partnership between public and private sectors is requested. Supporting the private sector by adopting two kinds of measures: first, the short-term measure which refers to the temporary cessation of taxes, rentals on state properties, and reducing entrance fees of the tourist sites and places. Second, the long-term measure by enforcing the role of the existing Tourism Promotion Fund. The Fund will be able to assist financially those tour operators and other private sector agencies.

– Overseas Yemeni communities represent a good potential influx of visitors, because their perceptions are not so clouded in negativity. For this reason developing the “Diaspora tourism” is highly recommended. The Tourism authorities are requested to design special programs selected communities overseas.

– Countering the current negative image of Yemen will require a well targeted and effective public relations campaign directed at the travel industry from major source markets should be implemented.

– Yemen is one of the most fascinating countries, rich in ancient history, unique architecture, rugged mountains, vast plateaux, and expansive desert. This variation is offering abroad tourism product base. The in charge tourism agencies are requested to diversify the Yemeni tourism product through targeting new form(s) of tourism product such as: Bird watching, trekking, ecotourism, and educational tourism. In promoting the new product(s), special programs should be designed to meet the target market(s) and group(s) needs.

Q: What are the crises which Yemen tends to be susceptible to?

A: International, and regional political crises and conflicts, especially when they lead to wars. Difficult operating environment for tourism sector represented by the instability of its organizing structure. Poor institutional structure

Q: How do you think a crisis management plan would contribute to

Yemen's tourism development?

A: Preparing a tourism crisis management plan will help in maintaining and preventing the current tourist flow from declining. Crisis management through a specialized unit will help uplift the lost image and rebuild the confidence in potential tourism markets.

Q: Do you think Yemen's tourism is more in need for a crisis management plan than for improving other aspects of the tourist industry? Could you prioritize the tasks of the tourism sector?

A: Yemen's tourism industry is still in its first stage of development. A clear policy for the tourism sector should be formulated. In the mean time a crisis management plan should be prepared and merged with the general tourism policy of the government in order to be a framework for the whole relevant organizations in the state. I recommend also that the government should establish a crisis management unit within the structure of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. The Yemeni government should encourage the investments in the infrastructure and especially in the tourism accommodations. In view of the particular crises associated with tourism, some modifications may be required in order to attract investment into the sector. Tourism awareness program should be introduced into school curricula and among the mass of the population not directly involved in tourism. Furthermore, a priority need to include the tourism sector in the government agenda as a priority sector is highly recommended. If tourism well developed with a special care and planned steps, tourism sector in Yemen would have a greater contribution to economic growth and social development through: employment creation, increased net foreign exchange generation, improve inter-sector linkage, improve community participation, and attracting more investments.

The Yemeni tourism industry is losing its competitive strength, at a time when the competition is getting tough. The government should seriously address the issue of crisis management in the tourism industry. Another important issue, tourism will not grow without strong air accessibility and adequate infrastructure; the priorities should shift to strengthen these sectors as well. Our embassies abroad can play a vital role in changing the perception and rebuilding the image. Our efforts should also guarantee the quality service and win the confidence of the large tour operators abroad. This is possible only if relevant authorities are bonded together.