25 August 2023

“Challenges in the tourism industry continue to increase as climate change worsens.”

Forest fires, tropical storms, heavy rains. In the current issue of Voice of the Month, Melanie Gerhardt, Director of Crisis Management for DER Touristik, provides insight into the tourism company’s crisis management policies and explains how important the protections offered by all-inclusive trips have become given the ever increasing impact of climate change on holiday destinations.
Reading time: 7 min.

Dear Reader,

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page, Roman philosopher St. Augustine is supposed to have said in the 4th century. For me, this quote still has resonance today. Travel provides us with new perspectives on the world. In addition to the desire to simply relax while on holiday, there is also a sense of curiosity, a desire to learn new things in the most wonderful way possible, while also encountering new people and cultures. Travel promotes tolerance and understanding among people, and connects worlds. This is what makes the work we do in our industry so special for me.

Nowadays, a trip is just a mouseclick away and simpler than ever to book. What many holidaymakers may not be aware of, though, is that individual travel components that they book online are generally not fully insured against unforeseeable events. All-inclusive package deals, on the other hand, include a number of protections. This includes effective crisis management that monitors events around the world and is available 24/7 to assist travellers when necessary and manage crisis situations. If a flight is cancelled, our support staff will arrange a new one. If a trip needs to be extended, our support staff will look for hotels and pay for any additional costs. We also modify transfers. And, of course, we always keep travellers fully up-to-date. If necessary, our support staff can even organise a rapid-response team. I am convinced that it is for these reasons that traditional all-inclusive package holidays are still popular and will continue to be.

Of course, we try to prevent crises as far as possible to ensure that our customers do not have to deal with the consequences of such a situation. We do this by keeping an eye on events around the world using the latest monitoring and alert technology. If a crisis develops somewhere in the world, we’ll find out immediately and will be able to respond accordingly. But the tourism industry faces increasing challenges as climate change worsens. The latest examples include fires in Hawaii, Tenerife, Rhodes, and Canada. We also anticipate an active hurricane season this year.

So crises cannot be avoided. Pandemics, natural disasters, political unrest, and strikes affect holiday destinations time and again. I was able to see how well crisis management can work despite worsening climate change a few weeks ago in Rhodes. Right after the fires there, I flew over the island from the north, which escaped damage, to the south where the flames had left unmistakable scars on the island’s landscape. But I also saw how quickly and effectively firefighters and disaster management teams worked on the ground, and how fires – especially with the help of firebreaks – can be kept away from towns and hotels. This prevented significant damage for locals and tourists alike.

The past few weeks have shown that good disaster management for destinations in Europe will be essential going forward. Safeguarding against the consequences of climate change will require not only safety strategies, but also the further development of global approaches to tackling extreme weather situations.

Melanie Gerhardt, Director Crisis Management DER Touristik
Melanie Gerhardt, Director Crisis Management DER Touristik

The example of Rhodes once again showed that the seamless interaction of and good communication among various stakeholders, including travel organisers, service providers, the authorities, and disaster management personnel, is essential. We were available 24 hours a day and were able to communicate directly with our customers in order to take the next steps, such as rebooking travel or arranging return transport. And I am truly proud of how well everything went on Rhodes given the circumstances. All affected all-inclusive customers received help fast and everyone was fine.

In addition to our operational activities, we also constantly prepare for every conceivable scenario by having suitable structures and (emergency) processes in place, such as crisis guidelines that are always kept up to date, extreme weather checklists, and comprehensive flyers for end customers and travel agencies. Artificial intelligence and automated warnings are becoming more important, too. Crisis management seminars on extreme situations and other training programmes top off these efforts, including those offered by associations, such as the German Travel Association’s Crisis Management Committee, of which I am the chair.

The past few weeks have shown that good disaster management for destinations in Europe will be essential going forward. Safeguarding against the consequences of climate change will require not only safety strategies, but also the further development of global approaches to tackling extreme weather situations. Adjustments and improvements will also have to be made in holiday destinations – especially by disaster management agencies. And this is the right way forward, because the fires on Rhodes and Tenerife show that good disaster management will be essential for holiday destinations in Southern Europe in the future.  The corresponding infrastructure is also needed in these destinations – on Rhodes, for example, water tanks in the mountains to be able to fight fires more quickly and more effectively. Follow-up is also important, as I saw most recently on Rhodes, where immediately after the fires, plans were made to restore the forests. Looking ahead like this is very important in holiday destinations.

The safety of our customers is our top priority. The demands on us as a travel company, but also on crisis management personnel, on the holiday destinations themselves, and on governments are rising sharply. I take a positive view because the corresponding safety plans and strategies are constantly being developed further. But it is very clear travellers will only be secure if they have booked an all-inclusive package. Unfortunately, consumer protection is all too often given short shrift in public discussions.

Best regards, Melanie Gerhardt

Melanie Gerhardt
Director Crisis Management DER Touristik

joined the travel company, which is part of the REWE Group, in 1995.