The lives of many worldwide have been transformed for the better by our industry, says Nikki White, Abta’s head of destination sustainability

Travel and tourism is a truly international industry, operating in developed and developing countries, and one where we have to deal with an incredible range of challenges.

We have very little or no control over natural disasters, such as extreme weather, epidemics and other ‘acts of god’, but deal with them through established contingency plans. However, man-made problems, particularly political or economic instability, have a serious impact on business.

Root of the trouble

In recent years, austerity measures in the eurozone, a military coup in Thailand and the ongoing fall-out from the Arab Spring have all led to unrest and had a negative impact on tourism numbers. Of course, many of these issues are unpredictable and very little can be done to prevent them from occurring, but others very clearly have their roots in the weakness of a country’s economy and a lack of jobs available to rapidly growing populations.

Throughout the world, population growth has led to widescale unemployment, particularly among the younger generation. Much of the disaffection that led to the Arab Spring was caused by lack of employment opportunities as much as dissatisfaction with the political establishment.

For many countries, travel and tourism is one of the few positive factors in their economic mix. Tourism is a labour-intensive service industry and it is highly unlikely that hotel workers, waiters and tour guides will ever be replaced by the automation that has slashed workforce levels in so many other industries. It offers a long-term solution, not just a quick fix.

Fostering solutions

Recognising the key role travel and tourism plays by supporting and fostering tourist industries is an overwhelmingly sensible and prudent policy for destinations to follow. A recent example of a country adopting this policy is the Caribbean island of Haiti.

Haiti has suffered more than its fair share of problems with profound political issues and devastating natural disasters. It, too, has to cope with an increasing population and widescale unemployment.

However, Haiti is also a beautiful destination with incredible potential, clearly illustrated by its neighbour on the island, Dominican Republic.

The appointment this year of a dedicated tourist office in the UK, plus the announcement of significant investment by Carnival Corp, are clear indications that Haiti sees travel and tourism as a route out of poverty for its inhabitants.

I am sure it will be successful in its mission to create a flourishing tourist sector and join the ranks of other countries whose inhabitants’ lives have been transformed for the better by our industry.