surinenglish

Where to draw the line

For many years, before the internet was to change the way we organise trips and book holidays for good, the giant tour operators had an absolute power over the tourism markets.

They were able to condition prices in the holiday destinations and to divert the huge flow of tourists coming out of the most important consumer countries in Europe from one place to another. In other words they had the power to lift or sink the luck of holiday destinations, according to whether they met their demands or not.

The marked concentration process that these giant companies under went in the first few years of this century threatened to leave all the power of decision in the European tourism industry in just a few hands.

But it was then that the internet burst onto the scene, and with it two factors that changed everything, the arrival of low-cost airlines and the emancipation of many potential tourists, who were now able to put together their own holiday packages in front of their computers at home.

Then some said that the giant tour operators had their days counted.

However now they still hold some power which, while not insignificant, is a long way from the influence the enjoyed two decades ago.

The present scenario has new players, among them the low-cost airlines that have managed to push the traditional tour operators out of the market for short and medium haul flights.

The progress of the tourism industry now depends to a large extent on these companies. Many of them, if not them all, maintain their business model by reducing operating costs thanks to online commercialisation, luggage fees, the higher frequency of use of the aircraft and, let's not forget, the reduction of passenger's rights.

The model of the low-cost airlines is a successful one that has changed our way of travelling, and, to a certain extent, has democratised access to air travel.

They have become important heavyweight players in the tourism industry and therefore in the entire economy.

Despite this, or perhaps precisely because of it, the authorities must draw the lines they must not cross, setting limits with confidence, not halfheartedly.

Last week's incident in which the racist attitude of a passenger who refused to travel next to a black woman was tolerated - she was made to change seat, not him - should not go unpunished, however much power or influence these companies have.

Business must not come before everything. It's a question of democratic health.