‘Prepare for the unknown’

WORLD Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) president Jean-Claude Baumgarten talked to TTN ahead of the organisation’s annual summit in Washington DC this month. Excerpts:
Baumgarten: It’s an infodemic

The WTTC has forecast a growth rate of 4.6 per cent in 2006. That’s quite healthy, even though it’s less than the 5.7 per cent growth registered from 2004 to 2005. How sustainable is this?
Well, we think a 10-year forecast of 4.2 per cent per annum is quite achievable. Now this is just a forecast, but several countries predict that the next three to four years will be very fruitful. Also, the global economy has absorbed the impact of increased oil prices very well.

The markets of China, India, Russia and some countries in Europe hold great promise, as well as the Middle East, where there is a great focus on inbound tourism.
Also, people are also travelling more and more these days. Travellers from the more mature markets are splitting their holidays into say, two weeks in the summer, a week in winter and two or three weekends over the year. 

We seem to be learning to live with the threat of terrorism, epidemics and natural disasters?
Yes, I agree. The terrorist attacks in London and Madrid were horrific, yet within a very short period of time things were back to normal and people resumed travelling to these destinations. Thailand, of course, has taken time to recover from the Asian tsunami because the massive disaster destroyed a lot of its tourism infrastructure and it takes time to get that back on track. But people are returning to the area.
However, the threat of a new health crisis (avian flu) is being exacerbated by a surfeit of information being being made available to the public by the media. The WTTC summit will address the threat of natural and health disasters at a breakfast session under the theme ‘Information, integration and communication: being prepared for the unknown’.  It will examine:
*  What contingency plans do governments have in the event of a natural disaster or disease pandemic;
* Which national and international organisations should the industry liaise with to be kept up to date on such plans;
* What strategies should the industry adopt to ensure effective preparation and communication in the event of a disaster; and
* How can the impact of such a crisis on travel and tourism, and as a result the global economy, be mitigated.

How many jobs will the travel and tourism account for  - directly and indirectly  - this year? 
We forecast that the industry will account for 8.7 per cent of all jobs, a significant figure to say the least. 
The Middle East is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world in terms of travel and tourism. Will this trend continue?
When we think of the Middle East we immediately think Dubai. The emirate is a shining example of how the public and private sector can work together to make tourism a success. The government of Dubai needs to be applauded for its long-term vision, which will have a positive impact on the rest of the region.
Which areas of tourism does the Middle East need to develop?
The MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) market – with its associated business spin-offs – is an area of growth. The region needs to generate more interest in its cultural heritage, and invest in attractions such as the Formula One race. 
How did you get into the tourism industry?
I’ve always liked to travel, even as a student. I belong to the generation that was always backpacking and camping. And I have a background in airlines, so I guess this was a natural choice.
What’s the best part of the business?
Meeting new people and discovering new cultures, it’s a fantastic experience.
As a tourist, then, what does the industry need to focus on? 
Better service, all the way.

Pg 16: Industry growth to total $6.5 trillion