They are also precious because of the time element – nobody wants a bad holiday, as it’s a waste of annual leave and therefore represents a wasted opportunity.
For the tourism industry, images of frustrated UK tourists ‘stranded’ at airports creates a negative and damaging image – one that all of us in communications roles in the industry fight so hard to replace with the (much more common) image of people doing what they should be doing on holiday – having a fantastic time.
The situation that has unfolded following the crash of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 has created an unprecedented scenario where an airport – not a destination – has been given the ‘all but essential travel’ warning from the Foreign Office.
For the first 48 hours this applied to flights leaving Sharm el-Sheikh, as well as those arriving.
The atrocious attack on tourists in Tunisia in June was the exact opposite – the destination had a travel ban for British citizens, yet flights into the airport to get people out were not halted, as the resort, not the airport, was the clear and present danger.
For destinations such as Sharm el-Sheikh tourism is an essential part of the economy – contributing 13 per cent to the region’s GDP in the past year.
The communications challenge is a unique one – information confirming the cause of the crash has been slow and vague. Speculation continues as various theories take hold around the bomb versus faulty plane debate.
Information has been similarly patchy as to whether the correct security measures were in place in the airport.
Doubt breeds fear and what all tourists need to hear now is 1) what actually happened 2) if the situation has been dealt with appropriately and 3) what measures are being taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
The British tourist is notoriously resilient and pragmatic. This can be seen in previous incidents.
British tourists also value the sunshine and access to an affordable holiday like no other nation – we work hard and live on a rather small, precipitation-prone island and our peripatetic tastes are hard to squash.
The journey back to the glory days where UK tourism numbers to Egypt exceeded one million will not be an easy one, but the first steps need to happen right now.
The basic post-crisis modes of recognition, response and recovery need to kick into play.
If the public can see that the perceived ‘problem’ – in this case lax airport security – has been identified and clear measures have been taken to fix the problem, then recovery can become reality.
It is in all of our interests that Sharm el-Sheikh stays on the menu.
We cannot and must not allow a culture of fear to confine us and prevent us from exploring all that this wonderful part of the world has to offer.
Equally we should not be playing into the hands of terrorists’ stated aims of destroying tourism in the region, driving more innocents into further poverty.
In time I am confident that Egypt as a whole will recover – in addition to its role as a cultural and historical epicentre of the North Africa region, it is also an ideal destination for year-round sunshine.
Let’s hope Egypt finds its unified voice to communicate at this critical point in Sharm’s history as a tourist hotspot.
Louise Hodges is communications and global co-ordinator for Travelzoo
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