Ian Taylor reports from biennial event in Switzerland.

The head of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) defended government advisories against travel to Sri Lanka in the wake of the bombings on Easter Sunday.

President and chief executive Gloria Guevara told the World Tourism Forum in Lucerne: “Countries have responsibilities for their own citizens and one of those responsibilities is to inform them of risk.

“We can’t expect countries not to have [travel] advisories.”

Guevara was responding to criticism of blanket warnings against travel to Sri Lanka following the bombings.

The UK, France, Germany and the US responded within days by advising against travel to the destination, leading tour operators to repatriate holidaymakers and suspend programmes.

The death toll from the Easter bombings of churches and three major hotels is now put at 257. Guevara warned: “Crises are not going away.” But she argued: “When a crisis is managed well, the sector recovers well. When we compare impacts, the longest impact we see is from political turmoil, not terror attacks.”

She advised the Sri Lankan authorities: “Keep engaged with the private sector and communicate, communicate, communicate.”

Isabel Hill, director of the national travel and tourism office at the US Department of Commerce, but speaking in a personal capacity, said: “This was not a random attack. The industry needs to recognise tourism is a soft target. We are a vehicle.

“We sometimes tend to think of these as one-off incidents, but I invite the industry to join a wider conversation on how to mitigate these events.

“You can’t start the process when the crisis happens.” Rania Al-Mashat, Egyptian minister of tourism, said: “Complacency is the biggest enemy. We are all vulnerable.

“We need continuous cooperation with security forces.”

‘We’ll face challenge’

In a video message to the forum, Sri Lanka government minister Harin Fernando said: “The threat of terrorism is graver than ever.

“There is no better target than tourists to send a shock wave around the world.”

But he said: “Sri Lanka came out of a brutal 33-year war. We will face this challenge.

“Keep us in your programmes and support Sri Lanka to rise again.”

Data difficulties undermine efforts to tackle overtourism

Overtourism is an increasing concern but developing the data to examine the issue is proving a challenge to researchers.

Fabian Weber, a researcher at Lucerne University of Applied Science and Arts, reported on a study to assess ‘overtourism’ in nine destinations including Venice, Vienna and Santorini.

Research on potential indicators – which included references to overcrowding in reviews, the number of Airbnb lets or the difference in coffee price between tourist centre and outskirts – found issues with all of these and found seasonal variations could skew the results.

The researchers also found assessments of tourism intensity could vary widely. A study in Lucerne found the ratio of tourists per resident in the metropolitan area to be 9.5. But with day visitors included, the number rose to 108. In the centre of the city, the study suggested the ratio increased to 319.

Weber said: “There is no easy answer to how much tourism is too much.”

He told the World Tourism Forum: “You have to use tools and data carefully, take a dynamic approach and take into account the views of residents.”

Professor Juerg Stettler, deputy dean and head of the Institute of Tourism at the Lucerne School of Business, said: “It’s good to have data, but it is important to know what you do with it.

“It is difficult and costly to get data, but you can have wrong insights and [draw] wrong conclusions if you stick with aggregated data.”