The co-chairs of the Global Travel and Tourism Resilience Council opened this year’s Global Resilience Summit by explaining how important it is to act to ensure the long-term sustainability of the destinations

The importance of resilience in travel and tourism has never been more important as “mega-disruptions” impact on people’s lives and economies.

The Honourable Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism for Jamaica and founder of the world’s first Resilience Centre, told the opening session that people’s lives are at stake.

Bartlett has been a leading player in the travel and tourism resilience movement, establishing a new centre of learning in Kingston, Jamaica, as well as co-chairing the Global Travel and Tourism Resilience Council.

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“It came home very forcefully to me when we started to have mega-disruptions in my own geographic space, hurricanes that were off the charts, and earthquakes,” he said.

“It began to concern ourselves that we are a truly independent region and these developments are impacting our future development. We are losing jobs and losing earnings.”

Bartlett said recent crises have seen 800,000 visitors lost to the Caribbean, and over $1 billion in financial losses as well as hundreds of jobs.

He said in some cases losses have amounted to 228% of GDP with recent examples of devastation happening in Dominica and Barbuda.

“We are seeing more and more these disruptions are causing an impact on people’s futures and lives, so we had to respond,” Bartlett said.

This was the background to the establishing of the Resilience Centre which has since spawned regional centres across the planet in places like Nepal that have experiences their own disasters.

Bartlett said the idea is to provide a framework for response, communication to help destinations appreciate what is happening and how to recover, and then, most importantly, thrive after recovery.

Dr Taleb Rifai, former secretary general of the UNWTO and co-chairman of the Resilience Council, said “protecting tourism is protecting people’s lives”.

“It’s extremely important we recognise we are not just talking about tourism here. If you think about anything in life, it will affect tourism. It’s a way of life.

“I want you to feel that this is protecting life on earth. It’s the essence of sustainability. Tourism touches every area.”

Rifai said forecasting disasters has to be improved, adding he refuses to accept that it is too difficult to predict earthquakes or storms.

And he said he wants to improve destinations’ preparedness for when disasters happen including in the way it deals with communications and the media.

“We are not talking about if it happens, it’s when it happens,” Rifai said. “Crises happen everywhere whether they’re manmade disasters, terrorism, political or economic downturns or cyberattacks.

“We need to be prepared to know what to do. We know very well if we do not react quickly recovery will not happen.”

Bartlett called for greater rigour to be brought to bear so countries like Jamaica have the optimal policy, regulatory and legislative frameworks in place to bring resilience out of the imaginations of public sector leaders and into reality.

“We must do this so people like myself who has to deal with public policy can be informed how to create that framework to enable sustainability and resilience to become part of the DNA of the operations of our countries,” he said.

“We want to build real capacity for education and development training, better appreciation of what is required to be done but most importantly to create a network of universities across the world where these can of studies can be pursued.”