Imtiaz Muqbil on an Agenda for the Tourism Industry


Imtiaz Muqbil writes the insightful newsletter Travel Impact Newswire. Below he argues for more rational development in the travel industry - and calls for input from new voices. As the world's population ages who is advising the industry on how to make the structural, operational, and conceptual adjustments necessary to thrive as some degree of disability becomes commonplace through longevity?


The travel & tourism industry is caught in an unprecedented cycle of boom and bust. It is being affected by too much happening too quickly in too many different sectors and parts of the world. The need for new ideas, from new people for a new era has never been more important. Here are some areas that may help fulfill that objective:

1. DEMOCRATISE THE INDUSTRY: The “World” Travel Market reflects the “world” on the trade floor but in the accompanying panels, seminars and discussions there is a distinct lack of representation by industry leaders from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Arab world. Most of the speakers are from western, and largely British, organisations, companies, universities and institutions who reflect, quite naturally, their own perspective. Most of them tend to be CEOs, ministers or other “top people”.

Also poorly represented are environmentalists, NGOs, trade unionists, consumer protection organisations. There is no forum for young people, indigenous peoples or small and medium-sized enterprises. This appears to reflect a somewhat undemocratic industry and a patronising, top-down attitude that leaves no space to create the pressure groups mentioned by Mrs Hulya Aslantas, the Skål International President (see story above). The assumption is that only CEOs, and mainly those from the west, deserve a platform and have the answers. But whose interests do these industry leaders truly represent? Their own? Their investors? Shareholders? Board members? Or their staff and their guests? What’s good for the rich and the powerful is not necessarily good for those at the bottom of the heap.

One organisation already realising its mistakes is PATA which in the last six years was headed by a European and became a hugely centralised, autocratic organisation that lost sight of many of its grassroots members. An organisation that claims to be the “voice of Asia Pacific travel & tourism” ceased to be a “voice” for its members. This process is now being undone; “democratisation” of the organisation is a primary priority.

2. BROADEN THE AGENDA & CREATE REAL DEBATE: Constructive debate, and a healthy check and balance mechanism is a vital part of any democratic society. A number of sessions at the WTM 2008 were referred to as “debates”. But none were debates in the real sense of the term, with no cross-fire of opposing viewpoints. Perhaps in order not to upset sponsors and corporate backers, hard questions are seldom raised. The result is that new agendas do not enter the mainstream discussion process. An industry of dreams refuses to confront its nightmares. It also conveys the image of an industry that does not tolerate opposing viewpoints and sees critics as enemies.

Although the agenda of economic growth, job creation and sustainability is now well accepted, hearing the other side of the coin is becoming imperative. Numerous issues need to be raised – from the management of security concerns to consumer protection complaints, from human resources management to privacy and the impact of technology and even ceksual harassment in the workplace.

3. BATTLE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Not everything that was said to be good for the industry 10 years ago is actually turning out that way. And what may have been good in the past will not necessarily be good in future. Globalisation was seen as a panacea but is coming under increasing fire in global forums. For example, the industry is all excited about how mobile phones are becoming new marketing tools but appears less concerned about the environmental impact of millions of discarded mobile units. At one session on technology in travel, I raised this question, only to receive a frosty non-response from haughty panellists who thought the issue was not worth their time.

Many of the marketing and management and forecasting gurus who made lofty predictions and trends forecasts were just plain wrong. Much is made these days about promoting competitiveness and branding. But branding is becoming boring and the need to compete is diminishing in importance, especially as there is plenty of business going around. In the years ahead, competition may be better directed at raising standards, not raising visitor arrival numbers. Even the industry's focus on sustainability and responsible tourism begins to sound hollow when one sees the monumental waste of paper on the exhibition floor.

4. LEARN FROM OTHER INDUSTRIES: The travel & tourism industry is a major buyer of goods and services from other industries, such as food & beverage, telecommunications, finances and banking. So far, not a single travel conference has chosen to hear the issues and trends prevailing in other sectors. Hence, travel & tourism misses a golden opportunity to indulge in a two-way discussion with its suppliers, get some free market research and influence the way products and services are designed on both sides.

5. BOOST LEVELS OF ACCOUNTABILITY: Leadership means being held accountable, and holding others accountable. In travel & tourism, holding ministers, corporate leaders and association CEOs accountable is virtually unheard of. At the same time, our own industry leaders show a surprising reluctance to hold external political, government and corporate leaders for causing problems. Mr Frangialli's fleeting comment on Alan Greenspan was a rare reference. Mr d'Amore of the IIPT dwelt at length about military expenditures but shows no inclination to hold many of the arms-exporting countries, specifically his own country, the USA, responsible for fomenting war and conflict. Speculation in oil and commodity prices, plus currency speculation, contributes to industry instability and kills jobs. So do the misguided policies of politicians and fundamentalist religious leaders of all ilk. Why should the travel & tourism industry not hold them accountable?

6. BALANCING THE IMBALANCES: One of the most important trends today is a rebooting of the world order. This includes everything from the geopolitical impact of the rise of India and China to addressing the rich-poor income gap and the imbalance between economic growth and ecological impact. Although travel & tourism is being hugely influenced by these trends, it is totally in the dark about how to influence it in a positive way. The key to gaining respect as an important industry sector in the new world order lies in clearly establishing and identifying this role – influencing change, rather than being influenced by it. So far, this has not happened.


Set up in August 1998, Travel Impact Newswire is the Asia-Pacific's first email travel industry news feature and analysis service. Mission Statement: Dedicated to reporting with Integrity, Trust, Accuracy and Respect the issues that impact on the Asia-Pacific Travel & Tourism industry. Distributed every week to 45,000 senior industry readers worldwide, mainly in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East.

Advertorial sponsorship messages cost 1,000 Euro per dispatch. Please contact: Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor, 24 Soi Chidlom, Bangkok, Thailand 10330. T: (66-2) 2551480, 2537590. Fax: (66-2) 2544316. Email:

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