Travel companies operating to Egypt, undoubtedly one of the top performing destinations in recent years, understandably view the developing protests in the country with some alarm.
The resulting anxieties about the welfare of clients are real, as are the implications of possible cancellations, changing Foreign Office advice and potential need for repatriation – to say nothing of the impact on bookings to what has become a major destination.
But the deaths of protestors, imprisonment without trial and desire for democracy are real too.
The popular overthrow of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia less than a fortnight ago saw the suspension of tour operators’ flights to the country and condemnation in the media of British Airways for continuing to fly to Tunis. Thomson Airways and Thomas Cook have yet to resume flying. Hopefully, Foreign Office guidance will soon allow them to do so.
But in the meantime all kinds of new possibilities have opened for many Tunisian people. In time, this might make the country more alluring than ever for tourists. There is an industry tendency to view such an event as a setback. In reality, travel and tourism has no reason to fear popular regime change.
Bookings may suffer in the short term from fears of protests or violence engulfing visitors, regardless of whether these fears are justified in resorts. But history shows tourists do return when a situation stabilises, often with fresh interest in a country and amid new opportunities for developing the sector.
Real problems only arise when instability and a repressive response to popular uprisings become prolonged.
If protests or strikes were enough to deter visitors, France and Spain might struggle to be the major destinations they are, let alone the biggest. If the toppling of repressive regimes was inherently a problem, Eastern Europe would not have opened to tourism as it did after 1989, and Spain would not have developed as the destination it has in the wake of General Franco.
The concern with which the trade views events in Egypt is reasonable. Lives and livelihoods are at stake, and companies have both a legal and moral responsibility for the people they send abroad.
However, concerns about the potential for violence to escalate are not the same as desire for stability at any cost. The bigger picture is that, long term, democratic reforms are good for travel and travellers, and repression is not.
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