There were a lot of highlights throughout 2017 that demonstrated the resiliency and community of our travel industry, but the year was not without its challenges as well. So, what’s on our [s]hit list? Keep reading.
It goes without saying that Hurricane Season was especially destructive this year, leaving certain U.S. and Caribbean destinations struggling to recover. Puerto Rico, Barbuda, Dominica and St. Maarten/Sint Martin are among those who are still reeling even months
after disaster struck, and the impacts are expected to be long-term. The U.S. Travel Association suggests that Puerto Rico could see a 50 per cent drop in tourism and as a result, 36,600 fewer jobs. According to Vox, estimates for the cost of Hurricane Harvey’s damage to the U.S. range from $65 billion to as high as $190 billion, while the damage caused by Irma in the U.S. is estimated to range from $50 billion to $100 billion. As for the Caribbean, the BBC reported that Irma’s destruc- tion throughout the region totals more than $10 billion, while after Maria, CNN reported the damage is likely $30 billion to $60 billion.
Two massive earthquakes caused damage and death in different areas of Mexico this past September, rocking the country only one week apart. The first was an 8.1-magnitude earthquake, striking off the country’s southern coast and claiming 90 lives, according to CNN. Seven days later, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake killed an estimated 216 people throughout Mexico City and in the states of Puebla and Morelos, toppling buildings and leaving many more people trapped. At the same time, two separate 6.1 magnitude earthquakes were detected, one off the coast of Japan and another in New Zealand. Just over a month later, a massive earthquake shook a region near the Iran-Iraq border, killing at least 400 people and leaving more than 6,000 injured. Enough already, right? If only it were that simple; according to reports by The Guardian and Time, scientists predict that there will be an upsurge in earthquakes come 2018 because of “a periodic slowing of the Earth’s rotation.”
TERRORISM & GUN VIOLENCE
Another major U.S. tourism hub was shaken by a mass shooting, when concert goers in Las Vegas became victim to terrorism on Oct. 1, leaving 58 dead and many more injured. The attack goes down as the largest mass shooting in history, surpassing the 49 killed just over a year prior at a nightclub in Orlando. What’s more is that “vehicle ramming” attacks rocked London multiple times, as well as Stockholm, Barcelona and New York. Even Edmonton couldn’t escape the carnage, registering a ramming and stabbing incident in September, while a more devastating attack was reportedly foiled. There was also the horrific bomb attack at a pop concert in Manchester in May that killed nearly two dozen people and injured over 100 more, while a bomb attack outside a hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia in October cost more than 300 people their lives.
A state of emergency was declared in British Columbia this past July, lasting through to mid-September, as wildfires resulted in evacuations, and destroyed homes and businesses. In October, Northern California was devastated as well, with wildfires burning throughout Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte, and Solano counties. According to the Associated Press, these fires destroyed at least 8,900 structures and killed 42 people. In Napa and Sonoma, most tasting rooms have re-opened and vintners expect the 2017 vintage to be excellent, as 90 per cent of the year’s grapes were harvested before the fires struck.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Just as more travellers set their sights on Myanmar as a bucket list destination, the country has come under global scrutiny for the persecution of Rohingya Muslims, which has forced more than 600,000 people to flee their home for Bangladesh. Some call it ethnic cleansing, others say genocide; regardless, little action has been taken by the Myanmar government or international community to intervene, while those who have left the country are now facing a humanitarian crisis, with little food and water to sustain them.
THE “TRUMP SLUMP”
When Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016 and subsequently took office in January 2017, many international travellers swore-off travel to the U.S. For some, it’s a decision based on principles, but for others, it comes down to feeling safe in the destinations which they choose to visit. “New figures released by the U.S. Department of Commerce show a drop in interna- tional visitors to the United States by close to 700,000 in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the previous year,” reported The New York Times in September. That’s a lot of beds without heads. But here’s the thing; apparently Canadian travellers aren’t deterred by politics or the dollar discrepancy, as arrivals to our southern neighbour are up about 4.5 per cent as of June 2017 compared to the year prior.
It seems like the hype around Canada 150 has had some impact on tourism arrivals to our True North, with overnight stays from Destination Canada’s international markets up four per cent as of August 2017 (most recent statistics as of print date). A strong U.S. performance in August provided momentum to improve growth over the first eight months of 2017 to three per cent, year-over-year. Among Destination Canada’s overseas markets (up 10 per cent), Latin-America and Asia-Pacific led the way year-to-date with double-digit gains, up 42 and 12 per cent respectively, followed by more subdued growth from DC Europe (up two per cent). Outbound numbers are also strong, with Canada listed among the UNWTO’s top 10 fastest growing outbound markets (based on expenditure) at a seven per cent increase.
“Over-tourism” is a relatively new term, but one we can expect to hear more of as the population of the world increases, as does the number of people travelling. In the first nine months of 2017, 901 million international overnight arrivals have put tourism on course for an all-time record – something that has already occurred with 300 million arrivals in July and August alone. That’s a seven per cent increase over 2016, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Yet, despite such seemingly positive results, the UNWTO has cast a cautionary tone, noting that unmanaged growth is both dangerous and unstainable. The keys to dealing with over-tourism, suggests the UNWTO, are community engagement, communication, congestion management, adequate planning and product diversification. As one example of how the travel industry is responding, Intrepid Travel has introduced a new range of European tours in alternative destinations. The new tours will include seeing the Northern Lights in Finland, instead of Iceland; discovering the last primaeval forest in Europe on a Belarus, Romania and Ukraine tour; visiting Moldova, a country that hosts 121,000 visitors annually (the same number Croatia sees every three days). These come in direct response to the tour company noting a 50 per cent increase in Canadian bookings to Europe in 2017 and the industry-wide discussion on over-tourism, highlighting at-risk destinations suffering from overcrowding, like Barcelona, Venice and Dubrovnik.
YEAR OF SUSTAINABLE TOURISM
In December 2016, the United Nations declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, providing a platform to explore and highlight tourism’s potential “to help transform our world into a place of prosperity and well-being for all.” Throughout the past 12 months, destinations and suppliers leveraged the opportunity to not only create conversation around sustainability and what it means, but to also make positive change in their operations. For example, on a recent trip to Zambia, UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai declared South Luangwa National Park as a park committed to sustainable tourism –the first to be declared as such in the world. The Travel Corporation was a Diamond Sponsor of the initiative, a commitment that Chairman Brett Tollman said “aligned with the goals of our not-for-profit TreadRight Foundation, and further empowers TTC, as a global travel company, to help shepherd the sector towards a wholly sustainable future.”
SeaWorld Entertainment is shifting the focus of its orca programs to educational observational opportunities, in response to years of criticism from the public and organizations such as PETA and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The commitment to education, marine science research and the rescue of marine animals are the central piece to growth within the organization and its parks. No longer a theatrical show, these programs focus on orca enrichment, exercise and overall health. Existing show pools and viewing areas have been redesigned into a more naturalistic setting. This transformation debuted in the San Diego park in May of 2017, to be followed by the parks in San Antonio and Orlando.
The travel industry really stepped-up to support recovery efforts across the Caribbean since Hurricane Maria caused major damage in September. In Cuba, Cayo Coco and Cayo Santa Maria were especially affected, but Transat, as one example, has invested in having executives and team members visit the region on a variety of occasions since to assess the damage, aid in support, and tell the story of the region’s recovery. Cruise lines also made notable contributions following the storms, diverting ships to aid in evacuation and provide a place of refuge for employees, visitors and locals alike, while also providing water, food and other provisions to various islands.
HEALTHY TRAVEL ADVISORS
Travel advisors appear to be in high demand – and increasingly so – with organizations like Virtuoso and Ensemble reporting double-digit growth in year-over- year sales, coming in at 12 and 15 per cent respectively, while Transat Distribution Canada is celebrating “its best year in recent history.” Part of the trend can be linked to a broadening interest in the services of a travel advisor, but growth might also be attributed to a shift in focus to higher-ticket packages. Cruise holidays and on-site bookings were particularly successful this year, according to Virtuoso. Who says you can’t make good money when working in travel?
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