Terrorism, climate change, and cybersecurity : Travel & Tourism needs to act now!

The challenges facing our world are massive.

Delegates at the WTTC Global Summit in Dallas, Texas heard from a range of keynote speakers who identified some of these challenges and highlighted the role Travel & Tourism can play in addressing them.

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Top of mind for the CEOs and government leaders was terrorism. With the Paris shootings and Brussels bombings still fresh in delegates’ minds, the tone of discussions was clear: it’s not the terrorist attacks per se that are the real risk but the response of governments, consumers, and the industry to them. US Secretary of State Penny Pritzker issued a call to arms to save the US Visa Waiver programme, which she described as ‘at risk’. UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai described the EU’s Schengen Agreement as ‘falling apart’ and Royal Caribbean CEO, Richard Fain, summed up the views of several speakers when he said, “it is easier [for governments and the media] to convey a message of fear than a message of safety and progress”. There was an overwhelming sense of urgency amongst speakers that the private sector must work even more closely with colleagues in government to ensure that responses to terrorism do not unnecessarily impact Travel & Tourism. In the words of Taleb Rifai: “we need safe, secure, and seamless travel”.

Jeremy Rifkin, Advisor to the European Union, President of the Foundation on Economic Trends, echoed this sentiment, identifying terrorism as a ‘hot topic’ but highlighted that in reality events are few and far between. In his opinion, the elephant in the room is climate change, which is now not just an academic exercise but something happening in real time. Half of all species on the planet could be lost in seven decades due to climate change. The world needs to be off carbon in the next four decades or it will be too late. Travel & Tourism is part of the problem, but also the solution. The opportunities offered by what he describes as the “3rd industrial revolution”, namely the coming together of the three internets for communication, digitalised renewable energy, and automated transportation, are huge. In reality, for Travel & Tourism this means the growth of the sharing economy, people producing their own renewable energy, and the move from car ownership to the ownership of mobility. With this in mind, Travel & Tourism needs to provide a map for the future in terms of climate change.

Erika Karp, CEO of Cornerstone Capital, highlighted the importance of capital markets in addressing such challenges. We need three times the current amount invested in alternative energy and she urged companies to collaborate, be transparent, and ultimately ‘move money’. She equated corporate sustainability to corporate excellence, and highlighted the opportunities of Environmental, Social, and Governance reporting. An audience poll suggested that only half of companies represented at the Summit had undertaken an ESG report in the last two years — the Travel & Tourism sector clearly has work to do in this area.

Another area where the sector was seen by some as dragging its feet is that of cyber security. Security Specialist PW Singer highlighted the magnitude of the challenge — cybercrime costs the global economy half a trillion dollars in 2015. Furthermore, 60% of online attacks are on SMEs. For a sector that is 80% SMEs that is of great concern. However, only 42% of companies represented had undertaken a full cyber security risk assessment exercise in the past year; and his own research showed that only 11 out of 46 tourism brands studied had taken steps to protect customers against email fraud. If data sharing is to be a key component in addressing the security problem, then consumers need to be confident in those who hold it.

PW Singer highlighted three specific challenges that need to be addressed:

1. Communication: there is a reluctance on the part of both companies and governments to talk about cybersecurity, not just to each other but to competitor companies or other governments.

2. Co-ordination: bad handling of cyberattacks by PR, law departments and the board can escalate a problem significantly. The whole company needs to understand cyber security and implications, it’s not just up to the IT department.

3. Planning and response: Cyber security breaches are not typically due to software issues but usually because security planning is not adequate and the crisis response process not in place.

Ravi Srinivasan, VP Security Strategy and Offering Management at IBM, responded that the industry cannot tackle threat as individual companies, it has to act together, coordinate, and share information. Matthew Finn, Founder and Managing Director of Augmentiq, was clear that for any real change to be made in this area the CEO has to take responsibility.

In fact, CEO and board level engagement is imperative if the sector is going to be successful in addressing any of these global, cross boundary issues. As

David Scowsill, WTTC President & CEO, summed up in his closing speech: “Let’s make it the new norm to go further than we have ever gone before in championing and resolving the big issues of our age. Let’s claim the leadership position.”

For an overview of the entire Global Summit, please read our Summit summary: Six ways Travel & Tourism can embrace the future.

For more about the Global Summit in Dallas, please visit our website.

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