he World Economic Forum -- where CEOs
and heads of state mix and mingle with academics, scientists and
public policy wonks -- took place in Davos, Switzerland, the week
There were more than 260 individual sessions, where attendees
debated such weighty topics as "When States Collapse" and "God in
Politics." Lest you think it's all ponderous and somber, the agenda
also included sessions on "How to Be Hip," for leaders who worried
they might be out of touch with youth, and "If You're Happy and You
Know It," a panel on the causes of happiness.
Remarkably, none of the topics specifically addressed travel and
tourism, but industry issues surfaced nonetheless, thanks, in part,
to the forum's co-chair, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chairman of the
Nelson told me travel figured prominently in "a long discussion
on security issues and managing risks." In another session, she
said, the group had a forward-looking "conversation about travel in
2010. There was a lot of focus on what is expected to be a growing
number of travelers to and from China and India -- both countries
will play a much bigger role in global travel in 2010.
"There was a prediction that the U.S. will grow its share of the
world travel and tourism market, primarily because it's perceived
as safe and offers lots of variety. It will also benefit as Europe
adds more countries and its economic activity increases."
Was there any concern that America's relative safety may be
counterbalanced by security concerns and all its attendant
"People were assuming that by 2010 countries would have settled
on some standards and that we'll have found ways to differentiate
the tourists from the terrorists," Nelson said. "There's a belief
that we will have improved information gathering to the point that
we'll be more sensitive to Islamic tourists. The broad-brush
treatment they've experienced to date is because of the imprecision
of our technology and information."
Nelson said travel and tourism came up again in an interactive
forum between attendees and the media. "We had an opportunity to
air some grievances about sensationalist reporting." Nelson, whose
company owns Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, said there was an
exchange that centered around the media's coverage of the
Norwalk-like virus on cruise ships. "It was a bad situation made
even worse than it had to be. But we had a positive exchange about
how news that needs to be heard can be reported without
traumatizing the public."
Travel and tourism took center stage when the group was
addressed by King Abdullah II of Jordan, she said. "He talked about
the attractions in his country: about Petra, about Aqaba, about the
Dead Sea. He reminded everyone that Jordan is a stable
That a Mideast state bordering Iraq, Syria, the Palestinian
Authority, Israel, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia can make a serious plea
for tourism is probably a reflection of the "cautious optimism"
Nelson said everyone there was feeling.
"All the indicators are there for a positive future," she said.
"But there's also that sense that the geopolitical situation is of
a fragile nature."