Visit USA under the threat of shootings: What the U.S. travel industry needs to learn?

Mass-shootings in El Paso or Dayton will harm the travel and tourism industry in the States of Texas and Ohio. A domestic terror attack may taint the image of the United States of America as a safe destination for visitors. Dr. Peter Tarlow, an international expert in the field of travel and tourism safety and security and head of SAFERTOURISM.COM is a resident of the State of Texas and reflected on this growing threat and the central principles of tourism security.

Dr. Peter Tarlow’s take:

Saturday morning, August 3, 2019, the United States and much of the world learned of another tragic shooting, this time in the border city of El Paso, Texas and also in Dayton, Ohio.   This article addresses what happened in El Paso only because of the time that it was written there was much less information regarding the Dayton Shootings. Our hearts go out to the people of both El Paso and Dayton.

El Paso

The mass carnage provoked multiple reactions and theories.  Various commentators immediately began to speculate on the shooter’s motivation and commentaries often reflected the analysts’ personal viewpoint.  In reality, we might never know the full extent of what causes a person to commit mass murder.  Although this article looks at the El Paso shooting from the perspective of tourism and on a macro level, the author wishes to emphasize that there is also a personal level to these malevolent actions.

Destination El Paso

From a tourism perspective, this action appears to have been aimed at the local community rather than the tourism community.  However, all violence harms tourism and suffering is suffering.  It is not the purpose of this article to provide an in-depth analysis of the El Paso tragedy but rather to remind the government, hotel, and tourism industry leaders of some of the basic principles of tourism well-being and to inspire both questions and thoughts.

From a macro perspective communities eventually heal, and the pain sinks into the tragedies of history. On the micro-level, however, the pain and grief felt by the victims and their loved ones never heals, they are the dead or wounded, the witnesses and first responders who are dead, or will be traumatized for man years to come. Thus although this article comes out of the macro perspective it recognizes that there is also a micro perspective and the author extends his deepest sympathies to the victims, their families and friends.

The following article divides this tragedy into four parts

  • General principles
  • Preparation
  • Actions are taken during a tragedy
  • The aftermath: Actions to be taken on the road to recovery.

Some General Tourism Security and Well-Being Principles

The El Paso shootings emphasize many of the central principles of tourism security.  For example, the shootings made clear that our vocabulary is inadequate for the modern world.  We tend to divide these shootings into criminal acts and those of terrorism. In reality, these localized massacres require new and precise vocabulary.  These shootings are not criminal acts in the sense that the perpetrator seeks economic gain. In some cases, they are not terrorist acts in which the perpetrator(s) are part of a political movement that for nationalistic reasons seeks to destroy or cripple another country.  What we now observe in multiple nations around the world are small groups or single individuals from either the extreme left or right who choose to maim or murder due to a particular belief system. These people’s hearts are so filled with hate, yet so sure of themselves, that they are willing to destroy lives for a particular cause.  Reduced to a basic principle we can argue that when a political position becomes theological then the results are some form of fascism and eventually tragedies will follow.  In our highly polarized and politicized world, we should expect such actions to occur.  For purposes of this article, I use the word “malevolent actions” (MA).  MAs not only destroy lives but also communities’ economies and reputations.  It cannot be emphasized enough that the public demands simple and immediate solutions, but reality dictates that security professionals look at the problem’s complexity and take thoughtful action rather than immediate action.  There is no one answer to issues of human violence that manifests itself in multiple formats.

These MAs have certain characteristics in common that impact the tourism industry. For example, the further one is from the MA the worse it seems.  As news spreads rumors mix with facts and fears often overtake realities. Additionally, the media can be both helpful in providing needed information, but at the same time, hurtful if they promote the perpetrator’s name, cause sensationalism, or acts as a catalyst for what is called “copycat” actions.

Should a locate have repeated MAs then visitors might become fearful of visiting the locale causing both a loss of income and employment.

Visit USA under the threat of mass-shootings: What the U.S. travel industry needs to learn?

Victims in El Paso come together

Preparing for a Tragedy: The Art of Tourism Risk Management

Unfortunately, tragedies do occur and most tourism centers tend to be reactive rather than proactive.  Many tourism entities prefer to ignore a problem rather than prepare for a problem.  The El Paso experience, on the other hand, demonstrates the value of good risk management.  El Paso was prepared.  Perhaps due to the fact that the city borders one of the world’s most violent locations, and El Paso’s borders are under-protected, the city was prepared for a crisis.  Its police are well trained in dealing with active shooter situations, its hospitals and medical community-operated both professionally and efficiently and the city had a plan that could be operationalized quickly. The El Paso experience reminds us about the importance of training, and good planning.

Although the El Paso tragedy was not aimed at the tourism industry there are many lessons and questions that tourism industry leaders from all parts of the world need to be asking.  Among the principles that tourism industry leaders and law enforcement need to consider are:

  • Does your location due to a regular tourism security analysis?
  • Do your police department and other security agencies have a tourism security unit?
  • Has this TOPPs (tourism oriented policing and protection services) unit had special training?
  • Have local officials, decision-makers and general managers had tourism security training?
  • How seamlessly do your hospital administrators, medical personnel, police and private security personnel, hotel managers and media work together?
  • Does your tourism location hold regular disaster or crisis exercises?

During the action:

The El Paso experience teaches the importance of professionalism, of implementation of good training, of constantly maintaining equipment in good working order, of inter-agency communication and providing the public with accurate and precise up-to-date information.  It should be emphasized that none of the above will occur without good training and coordinated risk management plans.

The Post Tragedy Period and Recovery

The post-crisis stage requires tremendous self-discipline. Humans have a tendency to seek immediate and simple answers to complex problems. Tourism officials have the same right as anyone else to their personal opinion, but should be careful as to when and to whom they express it.  It is not the job of the tourism industry to enter into the political fracas that almost always follows an MA.   It is the job of the tourism industry to help its local community heal, help with resource recovery management, and remind the world that the community is open for business. Below is a listing of things not to do and to do after a tourism crisis.

Things not to do

  • Do not lie or enter into platitudes
  • Do not enter into a political argument
  • Do not move into a defensive position

Things to do:

  • Tell the truth. Under no circumstance, minimize, become defensive or refuse to accept the severity of the situation. If information is not yet known, state that fact and then state that there will be regularly scheduled updates. Give specific times and locations.
  • Have one person be the tourism spokesman/woman and funnel all information through that person.
  • Have police (or military) officials standing next to the spokesperson to indicate that the tourism industry takes this malevolent action seriously.
  • In the case of foreigners being involved, make sure that it is clear that the government is working with all foreign embassies and updating them on a regular basis.
  • If visitors are injured assure the world that the community is working with the visitors’ families and will do everything that is needed to help all loved ones
  • Make sure the world knows what you are doing to prevent another or repeat situation. For example, if your police department does not have a TOPPs unit, find the resources and manpower to begin one or develop training sessions for both private and public security officials not only at major tourism sites but also at transportation terminals, and hotels.

The El Paso tragedy should serve as a reminder that tragedies do occur.  The modern world is a violent world and there is no 100% security anywhere Nevertheless, with good planning, good risk management and good coordination the effects, at least on the macro level can be lessened.

It is our hope that those who have been murdered shall rest in peace and that the injured and all the victims along with their friends and families recover soon.

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