Terrorism and Tourism

The devastation in Lebanon underscores the widely known (though less broadly acknowledged) fact that terrorism impacts tourism adversely. In the early 80’s, Beirut’s internecine strife and the terrorist bases in Southern Lebanon decimated that city’s tourism industry. It had barely begun a revival when the current conflict has all but destroyed yet it again. With Beirut’s hotels reporting less than twenty percent occupancy, it seems near certain that most operators will go out of business before long. That country’s tourism minister is quoted as saying that this summer alone would have brought in $2 billion in revenues. Presumably, all of that is lost. Other countries that have had notable troughs brought on by terrorism are Egypt and Sri Lanka. In the former’s case, al gama’a al islamiya brought that country’s (considerable) tourism sector to its knees by deliberately going after foreign tourists. For the latter, the terrorist Tamil Tiger organization effectively choked off tourism dollars by attacking commcercial centers, inspiring fear among locals and outsiders.

One indicator of a nation’s vulnerability to terrorism is the ratio of tourism receipts to total exports. For the US, it is a paltry 0.8 percent although in dollar terms it is a whopping $100 billion with total tourism dollars (including domestic spending) exceeding $600 billion. Nevertheless, the US remains very vulnerable to the threat of terrorism and its impact on tourism remains as a seemingly permanent overhang since Al Qaeda’s attack on New York City. That wrought greater damage in monetary terms as compared to any other anywhere else and the Big Apple’s hotels too saw occupancies dip to the low 30’s in October 2001; traditionally one of the strongest months for the city’s hotels. That was followed by another sparse period of hotel occupancies during the onset of the invasion of Iraq. If much of all that seems a distant, if constantly nagging, memory for New Yorkers, it is a measure of the resilience the industry displays. Americans are the biggest spenders both within the US and elsewhere and have not been deterred for any extended periods from traveling to tourism hotspots, literally and figuratively. Egypt and the Big Apple have both seen the return of the American tourist. However, the industry can do more in leaving its imprimatur on the World Tourism Organization, currently, the only forum that addresses global tourism issues. Unfortunately, its United Nations platform results in its focus wasted on issues such as “sustainable” tourism. That ought to change either by the development of an alternative forum or by the industry’s taking a business oriented approach to the WTO.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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