Tourism and DRR

         Marlene Lippmann

TOURISM SECTOR GETTING DISASTER PREPARED

 

Earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, floods – it is beyond us to predict most of the natural hazards that threaten us, but it is for sure that they will happen again in the future. The important question to ask ourselves is: do we simply wait until we face a disaster, or do we get prepared?

The answer is simple, but it is not as simple to find out how to achieve this goal. Becoming disaster resilient is a long and enduring process that needs financing and continuous commitment. Disasters concern everyone, but who will take the lead in confronting them?

The private sector can play a major role in building disaster resilience. Every business or institution has useful expertise and resources, but they often lack innovation or the awareness of how they can get engaged – and also benefit. It is a big challenge to create long lasting awareness and to convince stakeholders to adopt new methods. This is why we need to look at success stories that can show the importance of DRR. We can learn from these examples, but at the same time we have to be careful not to generalize effective strategies between communities and countries.

This article will focus on the tourism sector and its potential in the field of DRR. By introducing a success story, it will become understandable how Indonesia’s tourism sector is getting disaster prepared, and how a good strategy can be beneficial for everyone who is involved.

 

For decades, the number of tourists coming to Nepal has grown significantly. People from all over the world are drawn to the magnificent nature of the Himalayas and the rich and diverse culture of its people. In 2014, Nepal’s tourism sector accounted for 8,6% of the nation’s GDP and employed more than 726,000 people, which represents 6,4% of Nepal’s total employment. But this dependence on tourists makes the country’s economy especially vulnerable towards disaster occurrence. As after a major disaster, tourists will quickly chose a holiday destination they consider to be safer, and this will have a severe effect on the local tourism industry.

 

“If tourism doesn’t return to Nepal, it’ll be like a second earthquake hitting the country,” says Darrel Wade, CEO of ‘Intrepid Travel’, December 2015.

 

Shortly after the Ghorka Earthquake in 2015, tourist numbers declined dramatically and left trekking guides and porters without jobs, and hotel owners without guests for months. Furthermore, the damage of hotel properties in the affected areas was about NPR 16 billion, and also tourism infrastructure such as trekking trails and roads were severely damaged. The total impact of the earthquake on the tourism sector is estimated NPR 81.24 billion, which is roughly USD 8.2 million. These losses are immense, and Nepal will experience them again if the tourism sector doesn’t get disaster prepared. Hotels and agencies have to start taking responsibility for the safety of their employees and clients. Only then they will maintain a positive image of safety that can win back and keep up high numbers of tourists. But how can such a strategy look like in practice?

 

In Indonesia, the hotel associations started to work closely with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, in order to improve the tsunami preparedness of hotels nationwide. Hotels developed a “Tsunami Ready Toolkit”, which consists of a collection of fact sheets and background information on disaster related issues. This toolkit is a living document, which is freely accessible online and updated whenever new information is available. Besides distributing essential information on tsunami preparedness, the hotels contribute in educational events and set up standardized evacuation signs. Many of them are willing to open their doors for the local community that would be at risk in case of a tsunami. This way, they also contribute to the safety of the community that is not directly involved in tourism. By developing DRR strategies and raising awareness on the issue, hotels can not only increase the safety of their facility and their guests, but they furthermore improve their image as a safe tourist destination.

 

This approach seems logical and effective. But as with every strategy that is put into practice, there are challenges to be expected. When it comes to disaster preparedness, continuity is always difficult to maintain. What if we lose the attention and commitment of the people, as there are extended periods of time when no threatening hazards occur? Also, getting disaster prepared means spending money. Why would a business voluntarily invest its resources without receiving a direct benefit? The ‘Tsunami Ready’ Initiative found a way to overcome these challenges, by giving certificates to hotels and places that have implemented certain policies and procedures to become more disaster resilient. As soon as a hotel reaches a certified standard, it is authorized to use the Tsunami Ready logo and is announced to embassies and travel agencies worldwide. This way, the hotel can significantly improve its image and position on the market, and will be highly motivated to get involved in DRR for long term.

 

On a first glance, we can see how Indonesia’s hotels went a big step forward in becoming more disaster prepared. It gets clear that a benefit for the business is a major motivation for the hotel to contribute in this development. Setting up standards by certification can become a trusted concept that motivates businesses and others to perform DRR, and rewards them for their commitment. But we have to bear in mind that there is no such thing as a universal approach, and obviously, we cannot simply compare Nepal to Indonesia. Nepal doesn’t face tsunamis, and the demographical, geographical and socio-economic circumstances are different. However, looking at such success stories can give us ideas how disaster resilience can be approached.

 

It is high time to move Nepal’s tourism sector towards resilience. First projects and workshops are initiated by the Nepal Tourism Board and other tourism related associations, but Disaster Risk Reduction programs need to become more inclusive of all involved institutions. Within doing so, they must not only focus on the main tourist sites that are visited by foreigners, but they need to include domestic tourism as well. It will be important to build partnerships and strong alliances with governments and NGOs, so that Nepal will become a safe travel destination despite being prone to natural hazards. By becoming disaster resilient, a hotel will not only be a safe tourist institution, but it will become a safe haven for the whole local population.  

– Marlene Lippman