yler Tanaka has a bit more perspective
on the interplay between war and travel than the average industry
observer. The founder and former president of Japan & Orient
Tours -- he's now retired -- was working in the industry during the
Korean conflict, the war in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War.
And now comes the war on terror, and the industry again finds
itself in crisis.
If we want to avoid the mistakes of the past, I thought, perhaps
it's time for a history lesson. I phoned Tanaka.
He began by telling me that he himself sought out voices of
experience half a century ago.
A World War II vet, he remembers sitting down with legendary
tour operators Burt Hemphill and Kent Harris to discuss how that
war affected the industry.
"They said the travel agency and tour operator business all but
disappeared during World War II," Tanaka said. "Travel agents and
others who were of service age went into the transportation corps.
Things had to start almost from scratch when the war ended."
Tanaka lesson No. 1: No matter how bad things may seem now, the
industry has survived much worse.
Tanaka began his career at Pan Am, as a field agent focusing on
Hawaii and Asia during the Korean conflict. "At that time, there
was just a trickle of business to Japan. But it picked up because
the costs to travel in Japan then were so reasonable, and the
shopping was good."
Tanaka lesson No. 2: Price + time > fear.
Japan & Orient Tours was not yet a major operator in Asia
when the Vietnam War built up. "We noticed that many servicemen
went to Bangkok and Taipei, Taiwan, for rest and relaxation; they'd
write letters home. These were not strong destinations, but we took
advantage of the new curiosity about them.
"Our tours to Bangkok overflew
Da Nang, Vietnam, which was something travelers found exciting
at the time," he continued. "Everyone was glued to the windows.
"We were small, and our business surged during the war. But many
of my larger competitors were hit hard and had to close up shop. In
retrospect, it was a good time for an emerging company."
Tanaka lesson No. 3: There are winners and losers in every
environment. Small can be beautiful.
The Gulf War was bad for the industry in general, but Tanaka's
business in the Far East was virtually untouched. He feels he can't
take credit for having a good year -- he simply considers himself
Tanaka lesson No. 4: Luck -- good and bad -- has its place in
What about travel and the war on terrorism?
Although Thailand may have benefited from world attention on
Southeast Asia, Tanaka doesn't think that will happen for
Afghanistan's regional neighbors like Iran or India, even though
both countries have wonderful attractions.
He does predict a quickening recovery, with exceptions: Not only
will central Asia stay down, but travelers will avoid two
destinations thousands of miles away from Afghanistan: heavily
Muslim Indonesia and the Philippines, where extreme Muslim
insurgents have been making news.
Tanaka lesson No. 5: Have a good understanding of cultural, as
well as physical, geography.