Thursday, March 17, 2011


The first quarter of 2011 has been nothing short of gripping. From political uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, to earth and life shattering natural disasters in Japan, the new year has provided a series of events which have given a whole new meaning to the word "resilience". How much can a human being endure? How much can be taken before one calls out "enough!"? At what point does the level of the water, be it political or pure H2O, rise too high?

Remarkably, as the challenges have grown in frequency and severity, the people of our world have learned to swim stronger, fight harder, stand taller, and dig deeper, all as the world watches more closely in awe. And often, in inspiration.

When pushed into a corner, be it physically or emotionally, the human response can often be beyond expectation and even comprehension. Some struggle to survive, reaching their limit, ultimately feeling no alternative but to let go - to let go of the struggle, let go of the cause, let go of the life raft. They let go of the fight for life.

But then there are those who simply will not give up. Despite all odds, all logic, all reason, they will not, absolutely will not, give up. This is when the human spirit becomes a force far greater that the physical size may reveal.

January 2011. The year began with scenes of escalating turnout and tension in the centre of Cairo began to define the growing spirit of the region. As emails and alerts heated up the screens and frustrations of protesters across Egypt, the region and the world, the force demanding change grew. Its strength elevated to such a level that, with the earth shaking, a societal and political tsunami occurred. The image of Wael Ghomin speaking to a foreign with tears quietly rolling from his tired eyes, expressing the fierce determination of the people of Egypt to take their country back even at the cost of their lives, will forever be etched into Egypt's modern history. The force was alive. It was unstoppable. And ultimately it was successful.

And now another tsunami occurs, literally, caused by a beyond-fiction earthquake in Japan. Lives of millions of its people have been dispersed across the broken and battered landscape. Once again the world watches, this time broken hearted, as a nation fights to survive. Through the devastating loss of loved ones and location, across the country the Japanese people patiently and politely start to take burdened steps forward to make sense of the 'what now'. At the same time, united by a force fueled by a distinctly Japanese show of resilience, teams of technicians put themselves directly in harms way for the sake of national (and international) safety and security, knowing full well that their efforts to contain a nuclear crisis could cost them their own lives. Risk is irrelevant. The force is at work. The result is super-human.

To see the human spirit jump out, and above, adversity with a sense of conviction and determination is remarkably inspiring. And it is infectious. At these moments, there may be onlookers nearby, they may be completely alone. Neither matters, because the entire space is taken up by the almost visible strength of spirit.

Such a moment occurred recently in Berlin at the UNWTO's press conference at the 2011 ITB global travel and tourism trade show. The stage was as seen before: a convention centre meeting room set up theatre style, all 200+ seats and eyes facing forward towards a length of tables and row of name cards revealed a panel of leading tourism figures. At the helm, Dr Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO.

The backdrop for the stage was, however, entirely new. While the global tourism community was reuniting to discuss the long-awaited rebound of the sector, a handful of tourism destinations reliant on the industry for national growth, development and stability were in a state of upheaval. Most notably, Egypt and Tunisia.

And so, with tourism leaders, professionals and media looking on, in an act of unprecedented tourism community solidarity, and statement of personal conviction, the Secretary General invited Minister Mounir Abdul Nour and Minister Mehdi Houas, the newly appointed Ministers of Tourism of Egypt and Tunisia respectively, to join him on the panel. Respect for their positions and political circumstances left the room silent, waiting to hear something, anything, to fill the void around the 'what next'.

Expressions of effort and destination promotion were expected from the Ministers of Tourism. What was not expected, and what had those present listening in absolute silence and with intensity of focus, were the remarkable expressions of faith, determination, resolve and vision spoken by both Ministers. Their warm smiles, personal tones and simple words initially disguised a fact that became clear very very soon: within them, within their homelands, the force was growing. And that force was going to create the future that all of their people had always dreamed of. Starting right now.

As expressed by the Minister of Tourism of Egypt, “Let me tell you that since the events started on January 25, Egyptians have regained their freedom, their pride, and their confidence in themselves, their confidence in their ability and capability to regain a democratic, secular, and unequivocal system.” As for the tourism industry, the nation's lifeblood economically, socially and competitively, the message was clear - his homeland is: “determined to do whatever it takes to regain the confidence of the travelers. We will advertise, communicate, visit, give incentives, we will preserve and defend to keep [Egypt] a golden destination for tourists.”

With similar passion and conviction, the Minister of Tourism of Tunisia made his personal commitment clear to all, later revealing that as soon as the government was overthrown he was give two minutes to decide if he wanted to be Minister of Tourism. He took thirty seconds.

The dramatic force of determination shown by both Ministers of Tourism not only powered their invitation to all to be a part of creating the future of two exceptional tourism destinations - it put tears of inspiration into the eyes and hearts of all present, enabling faith and solidarity to transcend doubt and the demand for supporting documentation. Greater meaning was given to the sector beyond arrivals, receipts, REVPAR and RPK.

Importantly, it reignited the feeling of the pure wonder, joy and need for people to come together, tightly joining arms, around something they fundamentally believe in. This feeling, this flame of determination, must never be extinguished.

These are the moments that turn the mere act of living into a fiery, infectious feeling of being alive. They can happen anywhere - in a press conference, in a peace march, on a public website, at a private dinner table. They are powerful. They are purposeful. And they are unforgettable.

They are a force of human nature.

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2011