Tallahassee, Florida. Far too often, the travel industry finds itself in the role of helpless victim. Swine Flu, SARS, the Great Recession, a volcano in Iceland, 9/11, the Greek economy, you know the score. Travel agents, tour operators, cruise lines, hotels, meeting planners and other industry sectors sit on the sidelines and watch as events unfold, knowing that our businesses will be pummeled by circumstance. In each instance we know not all of us will make it to the other side of events as economics outside of our influence take their toll.
As you read this, an environmental catastrophe of almost unimaginable proportions is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. The first oil from the BP oil disaster (I refuse to call it a “spill”) has already hit the coast of Florida. The short and long term economic effects, the loss of both recreational and commercial activity and opportunity is nearly unfathomable.
The loss to tourism, to the livelihood of every person reading this article, will never be calculated. But I can tell you that a Florida without beaches, a cruise industry without New Orleans or Miami, is a possibility. Beaches throughout the Caribbean and throughout the Americas are at risk. Think not? Think again. It’s only the beginning. As hurricane season approaches, as thousands of gallons of oil continue to be dumped into the Gulf each and every day, perhaps for months, the story of the impact of this avoidable debacle is only just underway. Think Bahamas, think Leeward Islands, think Outer Banks. Think hundreds, indeed thousands, of clients canceling reservations on cruise ships, to beaches and resorts.
At a recent symposium I attended, Humberto Rivero, the Regional Director of the Americas at IATA described a meeting with administration officials discussing the potential closing of the Port of Miami due to the Gulf Oil Disaster. Not a single cruise line was represented at the meeting. Not one.
Although travel and tourism is a 2 – 3 trillion dollar industry, we are the very last consideration in every calculation.
Enough is enough.
Ours is a destination driven industry. Clients want white beaches and pristine waters. The sanctity, and I use that word intentionally, of our environment underlies the very life of the travel industry.
Travel agents, tour operators, cruise lines: I tell you now that your existence is at stake. Your survival hangs in the balance. The shady business practices of poor corporate citizens, along with the acquiescence of lackadaisical or non-existent government oversight arguer the end of some portion of the travel industry both in the existing crisis and in others still to come.
This is not a diatribe against offshore drilling. The insatiable appetite that we all exhibit for fossil fuels has created this situation. I am arguing, however, that the travel industry must be a part of all future discussions on matters that so directly impinge on our survival.
The travel industry needs real leadership. Between the hotel industry, the airlines, the cruise lines exists true economic influence. The influence of the travel industry, properly coordinated, is nearly without peer. With the appropriate leadership, the travel industry has true clout. Without such leadership, however, we are small, fragmented voices that will be ignored as decisions vital to our interests are made by others, the very interests that threaten our existence, in our absence.
The travel industry must demand a seat at the table of decisions that impact our existence. To acquire such seating, we need leadership. For the immediate future, I will take the liberty to nominate the executives of the major cruise lines. Why?
Ours is a water planet, and the cruise lines are water companies. The oceans are their home, their place of business. We need a voice in the immediate crisis. Between Royal Caribbean and the Carnival brands alone, nearly 2 billion dollars of oil products are purchased each year. Cruise travel generates billions of dollars and employs millions of people. That’s clout with not only governments, but the very companies that drill for oil just offshore of the world’s beaches.
The total economic strength of all sectors of the travel industry must be marshaled and our interests taken into the calculus of not only contingency plans but also of the very decisions that lead to activities like off-shore drilling and the on-going regulation and supervision of the companies that conduct those activities.
Off-shore drilling is not the only issue at hand. There is climate change, the exploitation of fragile environments, the sustainability of all travel and tourism economies. The current crisis is only the most immediate. If the cruise lines speak, and use the platforms at their disposal, government and business will listen. This vital segment of our industry can magnify our individual voices.
Cruise executives – we need your leadership, we need your help.
Let us know where you are and lend us your voice. Don’t let this be a silent summer. Cruise lines: – where are you?