The loss of human life
resulting from the tsunami that devastated much of south Asias
coastal areas is both staggering and sobering. Staggering in the
sheer number of dead over a wide area and sobering as a reminder
that sunny days, both symbolic and literal, reveal nothing about
what the future holds, not even the future of the next few moments.
Thats not the most
cheerful of new years greetings, but it seems to be the lesson of
the new millennium. The lesson comes at us both emotionally and
intellectually -- our hearts are torn by unreal photos and footage,
first of 9/11, then the bombings in Bali, Jakarta and Madrid, the
war in Iraq, and now the tsunami.
There are, of
course, differences between natural tragedies and the chaos that
results from violence-based ideologies. But the combination of the
two has seemed relentless, particularly in Asia, where even the
most optimistic tourism officials must be dwelling on the story of
Sisyphus, who toiled endlessly rolling a heavy boulder up a hill,
only to have it roll back down when it got to the top.
In fact, Asian
travel industry officials couldnt be blamed if they feel they have
it worse than Sisyphus -- with 9/11, SARS, terrorism, avian flu and
now the tsunami, the boulder never quite makes it to the top before
it starts rolling down again.
Those of us who
dont do business directly in Asia look at the region with sympathy
and sorrow, but I suspect, on a different scale, most of us arent
feeling particularly comfortable ourselves -- were beginning to
learn not to let our guard down. Before the tsunami, 2004 gave the
appearance that it would close out as a year of recovery for the
travel industry without grave setback.
But in reality, the
industrys recovery seemed fragile at best. It isnt as if the
underlying problems of 2001, 2002 and 2003 actually were resolved
seemed to have decided en masse to ignore lackluster global
economic conditions, terrorism and war, and went on vacation
No one in the
industry is complaining, mind you, but if much of the recovery is
being credited to pent-up demand, now that pent-up demand has been
satisfied, can momentum be maintained?
Id like to think it
can. Humans seem defined by an ability to adapt, to adjust to new
definitions of normal.
If nothing untoward
happened to travelers in the uncertain world of 2004, theres no
reason to think they wont want to travel in 2005. But they, too,
may keep their guard up.
When life looks
like Easy Street, there is danger at the door, sang the Grateful
Dead in the song Uncle Johns Band.
That line may well
sum up a new wariness felt by both travelers and the industry when
things begin to appear to take a turn for the better.
The band of the
song title is playing to the rising tide, but we can hope, as the
new year begins, that a new familiarity with both Easy Street and
danger results in what may be a watchful, but very rewarding,