Britain's TIERed approach to trouble
By Luke Clark - thetransitcafe.com
Monday, 16th July 2007
Luke Clark looks at the reaction to the weekend's failed bomb attempts in Britain - and wonders if post-crises, Asia needs its own TIER of travel information. As expected, it was a fevered week for news on Britain, following the weekend's failed terror incidents in London and Glasgow.

Perhaps most obvious though in all the coverage was a renewed measure of calm that accompanies news of bomb attempts, such is our familiarity with this unfortunate new reality.

From a media point of view, what was clear too was a measured approach to issuing information, and dealing with the news-hungry media.

Immediately following the failed attempts in London and Glasgow, reports concerning travel were among the main attention-getters in the "aftermath and consequences" column. As is typical of a peak holiday period, the events disrupted many Brits hoping for a little R&R on the beach in Spain or Greece.

Governments also reacted. The typically alarmist Australian government updated its travel advisory on Sunday, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) increasing the UK's threat level to the third highest on the five-scale ranking system, warning visitors to maintain a "high degree of caution".

Putting Britain on par with Iran, Guatemala, Rwanda and Uzbekistan in terms of potential threat may seem excessive to some, but Britain's own terror alerts were on high at the time. Ironically, Australia's warnings coincided with news of an arrest and alleged link in Brisbane. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock insisted there was no greater risk in Australia.

"Security alerts are determined objectively," Mr Ruddock told reporters in Sydney. "The UK government presumably has information that suggests that a terror attack in the UK is highly likely, and that is not the situation that we face."

Perhaps fortunately for the travel community, neither travellers nor the media seem to follow DFAT 's warnings. In an opinion piece headlined "Those alarming travel alerts", Murdoch-owner News.com.au pointed out that while the events put foreign governments in a tricky position, destinations like Bali and Oman were still suffering as a result of travel warnings, which one hotelier pointed out were "placed on the Internet years before, never updated or removed''.

The story coninued, "Travellers are finding the decision much harder to make because there is no cohesive, global consistency when it comes to travel warnings covering life-threatening issues such as terrorism. Nor is there any non-government regulation to prevent countries playing dirty politics with each other."

Michael McCormick, manager Australia & New Zealand for VisitBritain told The Transit Cafe that Australian travellers appeared to be made of stern stuff when it came to taking their vacations.

"The Australian traveller has proved to be resilient and we would not expect people to be deterred from travelling. Obviously we would encourage tourists to be vigilant when in the UK but not to alter or deter their plans."

McCormick said that early indications were that the incidents would not slow the high level of traffic on the Kangaroo route. In a battle-hardened world, it appeared travellers increasingly viewed their personal risks in perspective.

"I understand that one of the major wholesalers was quoted today saying that they do not expect an impact as they believe travellers are becoming increasingly resolute and there was little impact after the 2005 incidents in London," he noted.

However, at HQ level, Britain was not taking anything for granted. Information coming from Visit Britain's headquarters seemed clear and controlled.

"People are following the advice of the police to remain calm but vigilant. As the BBC and other broadcasters have reported, the streets of central London continued to be busy with tourists and residents, enjoying Friday and the weekend despite the disruption," the NTO reported.

Events such as Wimbledon, London's Gay Pride and the Diana tribute concert had taken place as planned at the weekend. HM The Queen had opened the Scottish Parliament on Saturday, while theatres and museums were open.

"London is benefiting from the visible reassurance of an enhanced number of officers on high visibility policing."

The advice to future travellers was realistic. "There is no logistical reason to cancel a visit to or around Britain and public transport is unaffected. However, at present increased security at airports may cause some inconvenience and delays on arrival in the country.

"Such incidents are not restricted to the UK. Travellers are aware they can happen in any destination around the world and are increasingly resilient when making their travel plans. The reputation of Britain's security forces around the world and the UK's strong response to and management of previous threats has reassured potential visitors. At this point we expect there to be very localised, short-term disruption to travel plans and there will be a negligible impact on tourism."

The clarity and decisive nature of the reaction was impressive and, for a media-watcher, appears different to that of NTOs in the past.

One reason that Asian destinations could take note of is TIER, the Tourism Industry Emergency Response group. Established in 2001, the group adds a coordinated "voice of action" to the travel industry response. Through its core membership of national organisations and national tourist boards, TIER claims it can disseminate information to 75% of UK tourism operators and overseas markets within 24 hours.

"We plan to convene the TIER group this week to take stock of latest developments, make an assessment through our global network and colleagues in the industry, and decide whether any further specific actions are required."

The message from TIER was clear: we are on the case.

"The tourism industry has an established and effective infrastructure - the Tourism Industry Emergency Response (TIER) group - for gathering market intelligence and communicating within itself and the broader environment."

Of course, it helps when attempts are foiled. And ultimately, the travel industry will always play a reactive role to bigger forces at play. Some might rightly observe that ending ongoing wars might do more to solve domestic security issues that setting up response groups.

But in a world of high-speed media and heightened risk, a ready response certainly seems to go a long way.

From the mountains to the sea, Luke Clark has been talking and travelling all his life, so it was a natural career choice. A born performer when not at the monitor, Luke has branched out recently – which when you're as tall as him, is always a little dangerous. Read more of Luke Clark's articles and views at The Transit Cafe ~ www.thetransitcafe.com
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