Back Special Report: What makes a destination resilient?
Only two events in the past 40 years have knocked tourism so hard it took several years to recover, Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata) chief executive Mario Hardy told the Asian Resilience Summit in Kathmandu in June.
Hardy recalled how, before joining Pata, he had asked aviation analysts to look at 40 years of data on post-crisis trends.
He said: “After natural disasters, recovery would typically take about three months. Recovery after other types of crisis took about six months.
“Only two events in the last 40 years had a [such] major impact on tourism that recovery took three years – 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis.
“In most instances, destinations recover fast,” he said.
“Some are really good at it. The ability of Thailand and Japan to recover is mind-blowing. Communities get together and work to recover.
In the tourism sector in Thailand we call it ‘Teflon Thailand’ because people come back multiple times.
“The country has suffered every two or three years, but somehow it recovers. Why? Because of the people.
“When the tsunami struck Thailand [in 2004], communities got together to help tourists and tourists helped locals, and that helped Thailand.
“After the Nepal earthquake [in 2015] I heard so many stories of people helping tourists and tourists helping communities. A sense of culture and community is very important.”
Hardy added: “Sustainable and responsible development are [also] important. You can’t develop destinations without consideration for infrastructure, without consideration for communities.
“That is why at Pata we bring private and public sector together. We want to make sure every part of a community is involved.”
Hardy welcomed the presence of Nepal’s tourism secretary at the summit but said: “We need representatives of other parts of government [present], the people looking after infrastructure, the environment, social affairs, to ensure there is a strategic plan for tourism.
“Otherwise you can wake up to find there are more tourists than citizens – and this has happened in the Pacific.”
He insisted: “Capacity management is [going to be] key to tourism in future.”
Crises can be catalysts for change
Crisis management is essential for recovery in destinations but crises can also be catalysts for change, according to Xu Jing, UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) director for the Asia-Pacific.
Xu Jing told the summit: “The word crisis in my language has two connotations. One is ‘disaster’, the second is ‘opportunity’. We need to turn crises into opportunities.”
He said: “My home country China had the SARS outbreak in 2003. No one really knew how important tourism was at the time.
“Suddenly, all international visitors disappeared. Only then did the government start to think how important tourism was to the economic agenda. Only then did people think ‘Let’s have a budget to promote tourism’.
” Xu Jing suggested other examples, saying: “After the Chengdu [Sichuan] Earthquake of 2008, people created an earthquake museum. In Japan, after the earthquake [of 2011] they used tourism in the north of the country to stimulate the regional economy and to revive gastronomy tourism.
“Sri Lanka used tourism as a tool for peace and reconciliation after the end of the country’s civil war [in 2009].
“In Cambodia, they used tourism as step number-one of their economic development after their internal conflict. Tourism was one of the few tools they could use.”
Xu Jing insisted: “People’s memories are short and work to make tourism part of the social and economic agenda is long term.”
Professor Sudarshan Raj Tiwari, a leading conservation architect, told the summit: “Half the 700 monuments in the Kathmandu valley were damaged [by the Nepal earthquake of 2015].”
One monument dated 12th century in the cluster of temples in Kathmandu Durbar Square was discovered to be 7th century during a survey of the earthquake damage, with a carving from the 5th century.
Professor Tiwari said: “We had a monument with more stories to tell. The earthquake increased the value of our heritage.”
The earthquake had also triggered development of a skilled workforce, he said. “We did not have enough draughtsmen after the earthquake. Four years on we have a group of master craftsmen.”
Resilience means more than recovery
Resilience means more than a speedy recovery from a crisis, former UN World Tourism Organisation secretary general and chair of The Resilience Council Taleb Rifai told the summit.
“Tourism is not about people lying on beaches or taking photographs,” he said.
“It is not just an economic sector, powerful as it is. It’s about bringing people together. There is nothing more powerful than people rubbing shoulders with other people.
“What is resilience – a speedy recovery to what you were before? Strength before a crisis is just as important. To come back to where you were is not good enough.
” Rifai said: “Many governments around the world, even the most successful destinations, do not look at tourism seriously at all. The important thing is to say ‘Welcome’ and really mean it.”
He added: “Without community connections, no sector can progress.”