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Toward a United States policy on traveler safety and security: 1980-2000.

Safety and security for domestic and international business and leisure travelers are long-standing global concerns. Billions of dollars, francs, yen, lire, and pesos in tourism revenues are at stake, through shifting market evaluations of tourist destinations in terms of social and political stability, crime rates, and environmental and health factors. By the year 2000, nearly 702 million people will be traveling throughout the world, almost twice as many as in 1990. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), by 2005, global tourism is projected to be a $7.2 trillion industry, providing about 338 million jobs. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) forecasts 1 billion international arrivals in 2010 and 1.6 billion tourists by 2020, nearly three times the level of international travel in 1996. Characteristics of this growth include travel farther from home until one out of every three trips will be long-haul, an increase from 24% in 1995 to 32% of all international arrivals by 2020. General Francesco Frangialli, Secretary of the WTO, states, "The 21st century will see a higher percentage of the total population travelling, especially in developing countries, and people will be going on holiday more often, sometimes two, three or four times a year" (WTO 1997, p. 15). For the United States alone, Tourism Industries targets 57.2 million international visitors to the United States in 2000 generating $114 billion (Marano 1997), making it America's largest service industry after health care.

These are staggering statistics for an industry that will be the largest in the world by the new millennium. The interests of this travel population - increasingly mobile, sophisticated, and mature - are widening the scope and diversity of tourism destinations and experiences - from ecotourism to cultural heritage. At the same time, increasing travel is heightening government and industry responsibilities to develop tourism-specific policies and employee education and training programs targeting the well-being of all travelers.

In the early 1990s the issue of traveler safety and security in the United States rose to the forefront of tourism industry concerns. Violent crimes against international tourists in U.S. cities served as wake-up calls to the volatility of the international market to the United States. The domestic and international media attention that focused on these events was not favorable, leaving the impression that the United States was not a safe place to travel during the early 1990s. Other countries and regions such as Egypt, Ireland, and the Middle East suffered similar fates.

International travelers' concerns regarding the United States are not restricted to the 1990s. During the early 1980s, potential travelers perceived personal safety as a major deterrent to international travel to the United States followed by travel costs and availability of information. U.S. government and tourism industry efforts to address and alleviate traveler concerns were sparse and fragmented. It was not until the White House Conference on Travel and Tourism (WHCOTT) in October 1995 that the U.S. tourism industry formalized earlier traveler safety and security campaigns and initiatives into a cohesive national strategy. Results from this historic conference include (1) the implementation of a U.S. National Traveler Safety Team (NTST) created to address current issues and to be proactive in forming positive relationships with domestic and international media, and (2) commitment to the development of a toll-free, multilingual help line that would be available to domestic and international travelers in the United States.

The purpose of this article is to document the steps taken by the U.S. public and private sectors and the international tourism community to confront traveler safety and security concerns as an international issue of supreme importance. This report summarizes cohesive measures and initiatives developed by the U.S. government in concert with domestic and international industry organizations. The objective is to move our thinking beyond first-stage visitor awareness and information campaigns toward implementation of internationally recognized, uniform, and permanent policies and programs that in practice can provide increased safety and security for all concerned (Smith 1994b).


March 1993. In response to negative publicity about crime rates in U.S. hotels, the American Hotel and Motel Association (AH&MA) led a five-member industry coalition in a highly successful National Traveler Safety Campaign designed to heighten consumer safety awareness. This campaign placed more than 10 million Safety Tip Cards in U.S. motels and hotels in its first year, and by 1997 had achieved global distribution in multilingual format. The coalition was composed of (1) the AH&MA, (2) the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), (3) the American Automobile Association (AAA), (4) the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), and (4) the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC).

May 1993. At Discover America International Pow Wow in New Orleans, the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration (USTTA) and the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) held a press conference and issued the first collaborative positive government-industry statement of commitment to traveler safety and security in the United States.

Fall-Winter 1993-1994. The USTTA and TIA formed a government-industry partnership to implement the Traveler Safety and Security Initiative, a survey of more than 1,600 public and private U.S. travel organizations measuring levels of concern and numbers of policies and employee education and training programs in place about traveler safety and security.

October 1993. The USTTA and TIA organized an international press teleconference at Discover America International Pow Wow in Hamburg, Germany, announcing the commitment of the USTTA, TIA, the WTO, and the WTTC to convene an international experts meeting at the WTO headquarters in Madrid, Spain, to address traveler safety and security as a global issue.

April 12-13, 1994. The WTO hosted an International Experts Meeting on Tourist Safety and Security in Madrid, Spain. USTTA, TIA, and WTTC assisted in the planning and execution of the meeting, which was attended by more than 60 country representatives and private sector officials.

The experts' meeting recommendations (WTO 1985, 1996) are the following:

1. Creation of clearing houses for safety and security information at the national level.

2. Establishment of tourism facilitation councils at national and local levels involving a partnership between local law enforcement, tourism authorities, and members of the private sector.

3. Setup of a multilingual emergency telephone number for travelers that would be a universal number worldwide but would be tied into local emergency services.

4. Development of training and education courses on safety and security for tourism personnel in parts of the world that have experienced safety problems and in developing countries.

May 1994. USTTA and TIA published a report of survey results from the USTTA/TIA Traveler Safety and Security Initiative and distributed the report throughout the United States and the international community (Smith 1994a). Survey results indicated the following:

1. Nearly half (47%) of the organizations surveyed indicated that traveler safety and security is a serious problem, yet few had policies and/or employee training programs in place.

2. Adverse publicity was viewed by organizations as the top safety and security issue.

3. Strong recognition existed that reliable and long-term statistical collection must include data on the economic importance of tourism worldwide and for national economies to accompany data on criminal offenses against tourists.

4. Other safety and security measures identified as important to the industry are (a) tourist-oriented police force active at airports and other tourist areas; (b) car rental safety information in seven languages; (c) international symbols for highway signs; (d) FM radio station, broadcasting tourism information in seven languages; (e) dissemination of traveler safety materials; and (f) development of traveler safety and security education and training programs for industry frontline employees.

Spring 1994 through fall 1995.

1. USTTA/TIA/U.S. Department of Justice (Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI]) joint initiative exploring feasibility of statistical collection on crimes against tourists through the FBI National Incident-based Reporting System (NIBRS) program. With only 8 states participating voluntarily in 1994, NIBRS covered more than 25% of U.S. population and 16,000 law enforcement jurisdictions. NIBRS provides a summary of data for an index of approximately 7 crimes with 46 subcategories and a total of 53 data elements about each crime. The research objective of this initiative was to change reporting of crimes against tourists from "crime rate" to more accurate "risk of crime" (Smith 1995).

2. The ASTA produced a Traveler Safety brochure for distribution by all travel agents to their clients.

3. The American Car Rental Association sponsored state and national policies requiring car rental companies to remove rental identification stickers and tags from all rental vehicles.

4. The Air Transport Association and other aviation organizations collaborated with USTTA to introduce traveler safety videos tailored to specific markets to run during inbound flights to the United States. A video for inbound flights from Japan was the first product.

5. Other specialized sector-level planning and programming were initiated by such organizations as the National Restaurant Association, the International Council on Cruise Lines, Meeting Professional International, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attraction, and the International Council on Shopping Centers.

June 9-11, 1995. "Talk at the Top" first global research and travel trade conference on security and risks in travel and tourism held in Ostersund, Sweden (Pizam 1995). Conference themes included delegates' declaration on research issues, information networks and documentation, role of media, quality assurance needs, and responsibility.

July 1995. TIA collaboration with the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Maryland to produce a study, using 5-year U.S. Census periods, which captured the statistical incidence of crimes against travelers through zip code identification of the residence of victimized travelers and of alleged criminals. Report findings indicated that the rate of crimes against travelers was significantly lower (40%) than that against the nontraveling, general population (Smith 1995).

October 1995. The formation of the NTST was a direct result of the first-ever White House Conference on Travel and Tourism held in Washington, D.C., October 30-31, 1995, when conference delegates identified traveler safety as one of the primary goals for the travel and tourism industry in coming years. The NTST is dedicated to (1) improving the safety and security of travelers in the United States, with an emphasis on international inbound visitors; and (2) elevating the perception of the United States as a safe destination. Incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit association, the team is governed by a 20-member board of directors chaired by Jim Host, executive vice president of the National Tour Association (Host Communications 1996).

NTST objectives (Host Communications 1996) are the following:

1. Establish a nationwide toll-free multilingual visitor emergency assistance telephone "hot line" program.

2. Adopt "standards of excellence" that identify best practices for teaching visitors how to travel safely, and disseminate models for traveler safety


3. Develop guidelines and models to help every tourism destination community in the country establish a Community Safety Plan and create partnerships with law enforcement agencies to support these plans.

4. Provide crisis management consultations on two fronts: (1) a global media relations campaign to counter negative perceptions of the United States as a travel destination and (2) a volunteer crisis management team available to assist destinations facing travel safety emergencies (e.g., a natural disaster, a travel crime wave).

The NTST accomplishments by 1995-1996 (Smith 1993-1997) were the following:

1. Concept for toll-free "U.S. Helps" (No. 888) traveler safety information service for international visitor emergency access. In the spring of 1996, members of the NTST met in Dallas with telecommunications and software vendors about developing a nationwide service. By June 1996, the NTST announced selection of two telecommunication company finalists. Summer 1997, letter to NTST from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Daley supporting NTST efforts.

2. Continuing to work with key tourism industry associations, federal agencies, and telecommunications firms to obtain critical funding to extend existing toll-free multilingual visitor information services to include emergency assistance in all parts of the United States. This would enable travelers ultimately to get police, ambulance, and fire assistance. Other nonemergency informational assistance, such as directions to airports, hospitals, and other public facilities, is planned for the future most likely with some form of toll charge.

3. NTST Public Safety Subcommittee, composed of 14 experts in the fields of law enforcement and safety, drafted standards of excellence to identify best practices for travel safety in all industry segments. These were intended to be published as visitor risk reduction guidelines, such as those developed by the WTO, for the education and safe handling of visitors to the United States.

4. NTST Public Relations Subcommittee worked with state tourism offices, convention and visitors bureaus, national and local government, and law enforcement agencies to draft a Model Community Safety Plan describing strategies and tactics for improving visitor safety in a city or geographic region. Kentucky served as a pilot state, with 1998 targeted for national implementation.

5. NTST committed to working on solutions to tourism crime and to demonstrating that the solutions indeed are working and are changing negative media and individual perceptions about traveling in the United States.

December 1998. The NTST's efforts to establish a U.S. Helps Hot Line had come to a halt. NTST encountered resistance to its endeavors to forge a public-private partnership among such agencies as the Immigration and Naturalization Services and U.S. Customs Service and industry organizations to fund and implement NTST goals and objectives. With Jim Host's retirement as the president of the National Tour Association, the NTST mission lost a major champion.


International tourism receipts provide a substantial and growing contribution to most world economics. To realize this growth, international tourists to the United States must feel safe and secure in the environments that are provided. The activity of the U.S. National Traveler Safety Team that emerged from the 1995 WHCOTT was an important first step in coordinating U.S. activities and strengthening the voice of international tourism industry stakeholders at the policy level.

In 1996, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Tourism Industries Leslie Doggett commented on the rapid development of the NTST program (Smith 1993-1997): "Our progress since late last year has been outstanding. I think it is going to be one of the most beneficial initiatives from the White House Conference on Travel and Tourism."

In December 1998, TIA published its final report on the 1995 WHCOTT. While customer service, education and communications, research and technology, and government/legislative partnership made it through the window as ongoing policy initiatives, coordinated U.S. support for traveler safety and security, regrettably, fell to the wayside:

It almost goes without saying, but visitor safety is paramount to all vacationers, wherever they may travel, and easy, clear information is especially critical to those who do not speak English. The National Tour Association (NTA) formed the National Traveler Safety Team to establish the "U.S. helps Hotline," a toll-free traveler safety information service for international visitors' emergency access. The program as designed has met stiff resistance on a number of fronts and has been shelved with possible reintroduction in a more favorable environment in the future. (TIA 1998, p. 3)

That "more favorable environment" may only come in the form of a new crisis or tragedy. While seemingly shortlived, 1990s' U.S. initiatives have etched the issue of traveler health, safety, and security permanently into the bedrock of U.S. domestic policies and international relations and have influenced issue awareness worldwide. Increasingly vicious acts of terrorism against tourists and tourist destinations, rising international alarm over traveler health safety; and the growing economic competitiveness of safe, hygienic, and environmentally sensitive or "green" tourism will be relentless drivers. These will compel the United States to implement "the real success of the [WHCOTT] conference . . . the recognition that the many segments of travel and tourism have more in common than our differences, and that our individual futures lie in collective action as a unified industry" (TIA 1998, p. 11).

Whether led by the United States or other nations, the tourism industry worldwide - public and private - must take integrative, concrete steps to provide collectively a safe and enjoyable travel experience. An environment sensitive to the needs of international tourists guarantees a positive experience for all travelers and also tourism host communities, benefiting both domestic and international travel promotion (Smith 1997, p. 7).

This comprehensive approach must range from the provision of multilingual safety and security tips to potential international tourists during pretrip planning through the delivery of in-trip tourism support services of benefit to all. This requires cooperation, coordination, funding, research, and communication on traveler safety and security among all facets of the tourism industry. It is about policies made practice (Smith 1997, p. 8), about a global mandate for traveler health, safety, and security for the new century.


Host Communications, Inc. (1996). National Traveler Safety Team: Background and Goals. Lexington, KY: Host Communications.

Marano, H. (1997). International Travel Forecast and Statistics for the U.S. Paper presented at Pow Wow '97, June 2, Nashville, TN. Washington, DC: Tourism Industries, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

Pizam, A. (1995). Security and Risks in Travel and Tourism: An Overview. Paper presented at "Talk at the Top Conference," June 9-11, Ostersund, Sweden.

Smith, G. (1993-1997). Personal interviews with industry officials. Washington, DC.

----- (1994a). Report on the USTTA/TIA Traveler Safety and Security Initiative. Paper presented at U.S. Traveler Safety and Security Panel Discussion, USTTA 1994 Annual Conference, April, Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC.

----- (1994b). "Towards a Policy on Traveler Safety and Security." Draft Report, U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, DC.

----- (1995). Review of Current Traveler Safety and Security Initiatives: A U.S. Government Perspective. Briefing paper presented to first meeting of the Traveler Safety and Security Issue Task Force Committee of the White House Conference on Travel and Tourism, March, Travel Industry Association of America, Washington, DC.

----- (1997). International Traveler Safety and Security: Policy Made Practice. Second International Conference on Senior Tourism, Recife/Olinda, State of Pernambuco, Brazil, 12-15 September, 1996, Proceedings - Selected Materials, World Tourism Organization, Madrid, Spain.

Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) (1998). From Strategy to Success: A Final Report on the White House Conference on Travel and Tourism. Washington, DC: Travel Industry Association of America.

World Tourism Organization (WTO) (1985). The Security and Legal Protection of Tourists. Madrid, Spain: World Tourism Organization.

----- (1996). Tourist Safety and Security: Practical Measures for Destinations. Madrid, Spain: World Tourism Organization.

----- (1997). Editorial by Secretary General, WTO News, March (Issue 11), p. 15.

Ginger Smith, Ph.D., is a visiting associate professor for tourism studies at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and a senior policy and sustainable tourism adviser, Sustainable Tourism Services, at Hagler Bailly, Inc., in Arlington, Virginia. This article was presented at the "War, Terrorism, Tourism: Times of Crisis and Recovery International Conference," organized by the Institute for Tourism and the Faculty of Economics of the University of Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Croatia, September 25-27, 1997.
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Title Annotation:Special Issue on War, Terrorism, Tourism: Times of Crisis and Recovery
Author:Smith, Ginger
Publication:Journal of Travel Research
Date:Aug 1, 1999
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