If I had to choose a location for a conference on crisis management and tourism, Jerusalem would certainly be my first pick. But the need to manage and recover from crises is not unique to Israel. In fact, terrorism is not the only crisis that tourism has to deal with. Floods, tsunamis, shootings and political unrest can also affect a tourist destination.
That’s why participants from around the world gathered to hear how they could manage security and safety crises in their local tourism industry. The International Tourism Security Summit (ITSS) hosted representatives from Japan, the UK, the US, Germany, China, Zambia and more.
They learned that terrorism is actually one of the smallest dangers of travel, but that does not stop tourists from fearing it the most. According to Rolf Freitag (CEO, IPK International), for the past 30 years, about 39,000 people have been killed annually in terror events worldwide. 15,000 of those people were terrorists, leaving 19,000 victims total. And yet, 37% of travelers seriously consider the risk of becoming a victim of terror when choosing a travel destination.
Dirk Glaesser of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) made a similar point when he said that 5-10 people are killed every year by shark attacks. And 150 are killed each year by falling coconuts. But somehow, beachgoers fear sharks, and coconuts are a symbol of the tropical vacation.
The good and bad news about tourism is that the facts don’t matter. As Isabel Hill (Director of the National Travel and Tourism Office, U.S. Department of Commerce) pointed out, there is often a big difference between the reality of a security situation and the perception of it. The chance that a tourist will be a victim of terror is much less than 1%, but there are still many people who are scared to come to countries like Israel.
Communication and education are key to changing the perception. Not by stating facts and figures, but by using emotions to sell destinations. If the media has convinced people that a destination is unsafe, they can be made to feel that it is safe through successful marketing.
Yossi Fatael, CEO of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association, pointed out that security is the elephant in the room. It is a major concern for tourists, but the marketers tend to ignore it. Security concerns are here to stay (around the world and in Israel, in particular), so marketing campaigns must provide a sense of safety.
Brigadier General (Ret.) Avi Bnayahu, former IDF Spokesperson, said that this can be done by giving the impression that everything is under control. Even during a natural or man-made disaster, if the tourist feels that things are being managed, he will remain calm and feel that everything is OK.
In fact, “business as usual” was a major theme at the conference. Director General of Israel Ministry of Tourism, Amir Halevi, mentioned it in his opening speech and he was not the only one to reiterate the importance of investing in marketing particularly during times of crisis.
Israel jumps from crisis to crisis and is viewed by many tourists as a very unsafe destination. Yet people who come here report that they feel safe at all hours of the day and night.
Can marketers change the perception of this country? It’s an uphill battle against a hostile media, but photos, videos and user reviews can do much toward showing that Israel is business as usual and that there’s no better place to visit.