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‘Rethinking Your Travel’ Alcohol & Tourism Summit

Excessive alcohol intake by air passengers is one of the top three risks to aviation safety. The summit, organised by the Balearic Government, European Alcohol Policy Alliance and the European Institute of Studies on Prevention, brought together stakeholders and experts from across EU the travel industry.

The primary purpose of the summit was to investigate and discuss the increasing problem of excessive drinking by tourists whilst travelling by air to and staying on the Balearic Islands and the mitigating measures to combat such behaviour. Although the summit focussed on the Balearic Islands tourism, the overall goal is to translate such mitigating measures to the rest of the EU tourist industry.  Whereas it was accepted tourism is an excellent source of income for the islands with over 16m visitors per year, a small volume of tourists make their visit unpleasant, mainly due to excessive drinking and other antisocial abuses that have an impact on both the islands' society and health services.  Over 80 delegates attended the summit, which was divided into two sessions. Session one focussed on Alcohol Incidents on Flights (of great concern to ERA), with session two focussing on Alcohol Incidents in Club, Party Areas and Hotels. The summit was presided by Isabel Busquets, Vice President for Innovation, Research and Tourism for the Balearic Islands, who advised that the outcomes from the day will be shared with both the Spanish Government and the European Commission.

With an anticipated 4.8bn passengers due to fly globally during 2019, an overwhelming majority will travel safely and without incident.  However, excessive alcohol incidents by passengers (and associated behaviour) continues to be one of the biggest risks to aviation safety. Although statistically there is one such incident per 1,000 flights, which may seem low, the impact can be enormous. Chris Mason, ERA Manager Policy & Technical, addressed the summit at length detailing the impact this has on the smaller/regional operators.  Although cabin crew undergo training to observe passenger behaviour and have powers to decline alcohol when necessary, such powers are severely limited and the problem amplified when it comes to aircraft operating with a single cabin crew member. Incidents including verbal and physical abuse, consumption of duty free alcohol on board and smoking in the aircraft toilets are some examples of such behaviour caused by excessive alcohol. Chris outlined that prevention rather than cure is the key, especially as there are numerous opportunities to stop such individuals prior to them boarding their flight.  Such opportunities include when passengers enter the terminal, pass through security, immigration, at airside establishments selling/providing alcohol and finally at the boarding gate. It can also be argued that the other passengers on the flight have a role to play be alerting either the ground staff or cabin crew of their concern about an intoxicated passenger.

Several options were tabled where the industry could attempt to tackle the problem of excess alcohol consumption, including warnings on board the aircraft, information at the airport, improvements to the granting of licences to airside establishments and even the banning of alcohol on flights!  However, the delegates agreed that the latter was somewhat too extreme to consider as a serious option.

The overall opinion from the delegates was for there to be an effective means of tackling excessive alcohol consumption by air passengers, the problem needs to be divided into three recognised and distinctive areas:

  • education – focus on enhancing passenger education and ensuring they are made aware of the of the consequences excess alcohol consumption can cause to the safety of the flight,
  • prevention – provide the employees across all disciplines within the airport environment with the necessary tools and empowerment in order to effectively challenge an individual suspected of behaving in a manner associated with excessive alcohol (and other disruptive behaviour), and
  • enforcement – ensure that the appropriate sanctions be taken against such individuals that have threatened the safety of a flight by behaving in a manner caused by the excessive consumption of alcohol.  Such sanctions should be enforced across all EU member states in order to provide the same level of standardisation and compliance, wherever the incident has taken place.

The second session focussed on the tourists once they reach their destination, including how alcohol has an enormous influence on their behaviour. The increase in availability of cheap flights to ‘club’ destinations has resulted in more and more younger tourists visiting the Balearic Islands.  It was reported that such tourists are not specifically interested in the historical or cultural nature of the islands but instead are primarily looking for somewhere to ‘party’.  The result is that during the busy summer months the social, environmental and emergency responses of the islands are overwhelmed whilst trying to maintain an acceptable level of service.

To summarise, with the expiration in 2013 of the EU Alcohol Strategy, a new strategy is required as soon as possible. Additionally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that the EU is the biggest alcohol consumption region globally, although it is worth noting that the WHO Strategy on Alcohol expires in 2020, when a new strategy will also be needed.  In the meantime, the aviation and tourist industry have a collective responsibility to educate on the effects of excess alcohol, ensure that preventative measures are implemented and where required, there is the necessary judicial enforcement applied against perpetrators.

For further information on the summit, please contact Christopher Mason, ERA Manager Policy & Technical via email christopher.mason@eraa.org