Representatives of the international media and tourism authorities gathered in Marsa Alam for the 2nd UNWTO International Conference on Tourism and the Media  -Apr.26th-, organized by Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Participants were able to attend a round-table seminar that discussed the media responsibility beyond communicating political, financial and social changes in these particularly difficult times. The conference was broadcast live viastreaming, as well as featuring in social media under the tag #TourismMedia.
The way information is presented by the media can have a big impact on people’s perspectives of nations such as Egypt – whose case in not dissimilar to Spain’s in some aspects. For the last year Egypt  has been firmly put on the map thanks to revolution which led to the removal of President Hosni Mubarak, and the subsequent tensions that have continued to exist. The reporting of these events caused a strong impact on tourism, and therefore, affected the national GDP of the country, as potential visitors were put off by the perceived unsafety.
When prospective travelers believe a country to be unsafe due to news reports they have read, watched, or listened to, they stop visiting. Sometimes perceptions and reality regarding safety and security are not accurate. For example; palm trees are perceived to be harmless, while sharks are feared by many and believed to be dangerous. In reality, falling coconuts cause an average of 150 human deaths every year, 30 times the number of deaths caused by shark attacks.
In his opening speech at the conference, Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, Egypt’s tourism minister, said: “What drives tourism is the perception the traveler has of a destination. Fair reporting of both the negative and the positive will play a vital role in the recovery of Egyptian tourism.” Sources need to be honest, balancing both good and bad facts, instead of highlighting just one side. Journalists should be given access to complete information, since negative aspects won’t necessarily overshadow the stories, but will make them more credible.
Participants at the conference looked at how the media could support tourism in these difficult times and urged the press to focus on how the tourism industry contributes to development. Key facts to consider for example are that 1 in every 12 jobs in the world is connected to tourism, and one billion tourists will travel abroad in 2012. “Tourism has become a truly global socio-economic phenomenon which is not yet fully reflected in the media.” Said Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary-General. He added: “We believe that to maximize the potential of tourism as a true driver of development and wellbeing for all we need to bring tourism administrations, the private sector and the media closer together.”
Some of the key points to emerge from the conference were the need for tourism authorities and the media to communicate effectively in tough times. This includes graphical storytelling, planning the appropriate social media strategies, and establishing crisis communication protocols. In order for international media companies to give their audience a balanced view of events, they should reflect the local population’s stories and testimonies, and provide greater coverage of personal cases and day-to-day close ups.
Tourism – with special focus on sustainability and responsibility – is now one of the most promising and viable options for global and local development, the participants concluded. The media is responsible for raising awareness of the importance of this industry as a vital service sector, contributing to the economy and employment in developed and developing countries.
As an outcome, tourism authorities and the global media were encouraged to learn more about one another, and to work together more closely in the future.
By: Ana Fañanás Biescas