Resilience is among “the most important” issues in travel and tourism, the US government’s most senior travel official told a summit of industry leaders in Jordan this week.

Isabel Hill, director of the National Travel and Tourism Office at the US Department of Commerce, said: “There are issues we deal with that can be a matter of life and death.”

She told the Resilience Through Tourism summit in the Jordanian capital of Amman: “Resilience is one of the most important things to talk about in travel and tourism.”

Hill said: “This is an evolving discipline. In the US, our journey began with 9/11 which devastated our travel and tourism.

“There was a 50% decline in air passengers, a 50% decline in hotel service, and the sector was totally unprepared. We all felt the shock. It has been a long journey since.”

She said: “We have learned a lot.” But she emphasised two lessons – “the importance of engagement between the public and private sector, and resilience begins with prevention”.

Hill noted “a fear” that if authorities reach out to the public with a message that “if you see something, say something, it will put off visitors”.

But she insisted: “There is no evidence of that. We’re at a place now where people feel this is part of their role.”

She told the summit: “It is not a question of if something happens, but when. We need to acknowledge we’re in a dynamic world and make resilience part of what we do.

“Best practice begins at the destination level with the travel and tourism community coming together.

“That means the destination management organisation, hoteliers and venues getting together with the police to work out their responses and come up with a plan that will be activated in an event. Then act out scenarios.”

In the US, she said: “We engaged with Marriott, Disney, Universal to talk to Homeland Security about how to manage the border process so we meet the needs of security and of travellers.

“We work together in many ways. We have developed biometric border security. We’re looking to build resilience into our destinations.”

Hill said: “The best source of resilience is the ongoing conversation between public and private organisations.”

She added: “It is critical to look at financing. You need structures in place such as loans so government has a way of delivering in times of need when local communities can’t.”

Hill quoted former US president and army general Dwight Eisenhower, who said: “In battle, plans are useless – but planning is essential.”

She said: “It’s not that you will be able to follow a plan [when something happens] but that you will know who to reach out to.”