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The Skift-coined term ‘permanxiety’ is a perfect word to describe the current state of travelers’ minds. “Travelers endure a barrage of worries about terrorism, security, Neo-isolationism, racial tension, Trumpism, technology and its adverse role, the widening economic gap, culture wars, climate change, and other geopolitical and local issues.” reads the Skift foreword on permanxiety.
“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
- Mark Twain
I know what it means to travel the world: turning ignorance into serendipities, finding a part of myself in an alien environment that I feared for its unknowns, and feeling closer to the world – being transformed if you will. However, this notion is being tainted by the increasing regularity of political, economic and violent disruptions worldwide. Adding a layer to this anxiety, we have to address the moral case for the social and environmental impact travel makes. Sustainability is not a trend that we can choose to not care about anymore, and a flood of tourists is taking a toll on a few extremely popular destinations. Overall, it almost feels like there hasn’t been a worse time to travel while travel is getting easier by day. So how is this multifaceted anxiety shifting the way people travel? What can we – as hoteliers and travelers ourselves – do about it?
The Irrational Fear
In summer of 2016, I was visiting a friend in Nice, South of France. We were on the Promenade des Anglais admiring the perfect blue sky and the sea, having a good time soaking up some sun. There were no worries to be had, just enjoying the slow summer vibe with all the happy people on vacation. Our last day was 14th of July, and we had to miss the evening parade of the French National Day to catch a flight. As soon as we arrived at our next destination, our phones started ringing with the texts to check if we were safe. We were dumbfounded to find out about the van attack that took 87 lives. Just to think of the people we saw there few hours before, and that we could have easily been one of them. My deepest condolences are still with them.
Taken from the Promenade des Anglais, 13th July 2016
Mostly thanks to the round-the-clock echo chamber of news and social media, we learn about and are reminded of these random attacks that make us feel like we could be the next. When in fact, World Travel Monitor data in 2016 shows that the actual risk to travelers from terror attacks is close to zero. They have much higher chance of experiencing, for example, health problems or crime at the destination. However, significant amount of people (45%) now have serious safety and security concerns, especially towards the destinations which recently underwent violence. Confirming this fear, about two thirds of these people plan to only travel to destinations they perceive as being safe. As much as we think this fear is irrational, we cannot blame ourselves feeling this way. Fear is our natural reaction towards uncertainties, and when you know it can happen to you or your loved ones, you cannot just shake it off.
The Irrational Measure
As a part of the effort to defuse this fear, people and media are looking for cues to beware of, mainly by generalizing the attackers’ profiles. This trains people to keep distance from the unfamiliarity. However, diversity is a virtue and a fact of life and travel, by default, puts you in an unusual environment and a mindset. Strangely enough, we often learn to embrace and appreciate the unlikeness from home through one epiphany after another. However, we become fearful to explore such differences due to the political unrest and the stirrings of nativism, neo-isolationism around the world. For instance, a sheer idea of blocking out a certain part of the world becomes a policy such as the travel ban as a blanket solution to the conflict and builds unnecessary tension among people. However, irrational fear attracts irrational measures. As long as there is a confidence in people that this will not be the new normal and the industry continues to work together with governments and stakeholders to minimize risks, we won’t be the dreamers.
Global Tourism 2016-17
In contrast to the common belief, people are still going on holidays. Indeed, France, Turkey, and Belgium experienced a notable dip in visitor influx in 2016, offsetting the growth in other destinations; Western Europe (-1%) and Southern Mediterranean Europe (0%). But it is hard for a bombing in the Belgium airport, or a shooting in Paris to make people give their vacations up. Global tourism continued an uninterrupted growth since 2010, with the record level of 1.127 billion tourist arrivals in 2017. This represents a 7% (70 million) increase on the same period of previous year. Along with the help of economic upswing, the trend is projected to remain incremental until 2030. Especially, Middle East, Africa, and Part of Europe are showed a strong recovery in 2017 despite the trend towards ‘safe’ destinations started in 2016. “Tourism is one of the most resilient and fastest-growing economic sectors but it is also very sensitive to risks, both actual and perceived”, shared UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai in retrospect of 2016. With the right strategy to mitigate both risks, it seems that the longevity of tourism will stay intact and destinations will further thrive despite our worries.
A Call for Change (and How to Keep Calm)
The time is calling for changes. Big and small. All of us have multiple stakes in this collective effort to restore confidence in travelers; as travelers ourselves and as hoteliers.
As travelers, we should equip ourselves with verified information from reliable sources and act upon our educated judgement. But there are few things we can all be easily mindful about and alleviate this anxiety. First, avoid the tourist magnets. Forming a big crowd makes it an easy target for attacks like we have seen. Plus, the astray will lead you to the unexpected hidden gems of the destination. Next, stay alert to the official announcements on the security status of your destinations. Check when planning your trip, and again before departure. Monitoring live updates on social media’s location-base search is a quick way to get a grasp and familiarize yourself with the atmosphere as well. Also, give it a try to the guided meditation apps such as Headspace or Calm to help quiet your mind and soothe the irrational fear.
As for hoteliers, we should go back to the root cause: to create a home away from home. A simple principle, but one that can easily be forgotten behind daily operations. Indeed, instilling a feeling of ‘home’ is what hoteliers strive for, and at the same time the most difficult thing to come from a stranger. As hosts of the juxtaposition of a safe nest and an exciting adventure, it is a hoteliers’ job to have everybody who takes part in creating the guest experience to be aligned and well-trained. Train your fellow hoteliers to learn and empathize as to where the guests are coming from, their travel frustrations, and go beyond to provide genuine and accommodating service. Expose them to different situations and scenarios they might run into, and make it interactive to improve the knowledge retention. For example, Marriott’s Multicultural Affairs department studies the changing demographics and creates videos as training tools to show employees how to respond in various situations. Organizing a session where employees share their experiences could also bring up the team’s collective awareness and understanding.
Traveling less to stay safe is not only a band-aid fix but also against the human nature to discover and broaden perspectives. As Ted Teng, President & CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World put eloquently, “Travel to discover is not what we do, it is who we are. It is an essential part of our being … and desire to evolve as individuals.” The more you willingly experience things you consider bizarre, the calmer you will be in situations with uncertainties. Here’s to our unchanging desire to explore and connect.