Terrorism and Tourism
It is incredibly sad that we now live in an age where we are constantly living in fear of terrorism. It feels like references are made about terrorism every day, whether that be by the media, the government, bloggers, statistical reports or every day conversations with friends and family. Terrorism is everywhere, or so it seems. But the most important time that normal people like you or I seriously ponder the dangers of terrorism is when we decide to travel. Is it safe to fly? Where is safe to visit? What are the chances of being involved in a terrorist attack while we are away? Who are these terrorists and why should we fear them? Let’s look at the truth behind tourism and terrorism.
What is terrorism?
Many reports will tell you that the first time the world saw a terrorist attack was around 1794, following the French Revolution. It was political theorist and British MP Edmund Burke who brought the word ‘terrorism’ to political vocabulary when he accused the French government of promoting a ‘reign of terror’, to intimidate and eliminate its enemies. But history will tell you that terrorism dates back to at least 6AD when Jewish patriots under the name of ‘Zealots’, launched a terrorist campaign to drive the Romans out of Palestine. Acts such as this may not have been labelled as terrorism until the late 1700s, but it has been a part of our world history in various forms for over two thousand years.
Terrorism aims to inspire the kind of fear that will get people to change their behaviour. It is an objective created by dissatisfaction. Recessions, globalisation, modernisation, political unrest, ineffective law enforcement and war are all instrumental in creating and adding to the problem and these organisations can find plenty of unhappy people to draw upon for recruits and support in attacks. Religion and poverty are also thought to contribute to the phenomenon, but in reality they are scapegoats and just a couple of factors in the explosive brew of politics, culture and psychology that leads fanatics to target the innocent and take their own lives in the process. Some Islamic terrorists may believe that they are fighting for Allah, but in reality, higher up the chain, the motives are political and economical. Why do you think billions of Muslims around the world actively speak against the actions of the so called Islamic State?
Terrorism exists because the politically weak and disenfranchised have no other means by which to realise their objectives, since they will not be taken seriously by the normal population. Terrorist organisations have a global ideology and their aim is to disable the market state by killing and instilling terror in civilian populations with the largest audience possible.
Why do terrorists attack tourism?
The target of tourists or the tourism industry is quite deliberate and helps terrorists achieve several goals; publicity, economic disruption and ideological opposition to tourism. To the terrorists, tourists represent their countries; they are outsiders, representing a threat to their social norms, traditions and religious beliefs. When locals living in hardship are forced to co-exist with wealthy international tourists enjoying and exploiting luxuries, there is bound to be friction. We’ve all been witness to inconsiderate tourist behaviour; the clashing of cultures or values, the disrespect of local practices such as eating pork, drinking alcohol, gambling, conspicuous consumption, even the way we dress. From their perspective, and perhaps correctly, the tourism industry is blamed for destroying indigenous cultures.
Terrorists also target tourists for media value; a huge audience. Targeting their own citizens often goes unnoticed by news agencies around the world, including their own, due to governments censoring news content. When nationals of westernised countries become involved, news coverage is guaranteed and the situation instantaneously dramatised. The terrorists achieve the publicity they want and the media wins in ratings too.
How is the tourism industry affected by terrorism?
Plainly put, aside of creating fear in the lives of everyday people, acts of terrorism create short term chaos to the world economy. As one of the leading industries contributing to worldwide GDP, any financial loss to the tourism industry simultaneously throws the world market and countries’ economies into disarray. It is not us the traveller who suffer, it is the countries relying on tourism who bear the brunt of terrorism. Property is destroyed, holidays are cancelled, foreign investment drops, consumption dips and this all effects employment rates and capital flows. Lisa Mastny, author of “Travelling Light: New Paths for International Tourism”, published in 2001, wrote that “the aftermath of September 11 has shown how important travel and tourism are to the global economy, but also how over-dependence on tourism can devastate lives and derail economies. Now more than ever, it is time to put issues of sustainability at the top of the global tourism agenda.”
The brutality of terrorist attacks creates risk when it comes to travel and this risk significantly impacts tourist behaviour. People will choose safer destinations for their holidays and they will attribute the risk of terrorism to neighbouring countries who are not directly affected, but completely safe to travel to. But the initial reaction is not to travel at all. Easyjet reported a 3.7% drop in revenue for the last three months of 2015, attributing the loss to the Paris and Sharm-el-Sheik bombings. Easyjet and British Airways have suspended all flights to Sharm-el-Sheik until at least May 2016 and Thomson have cancelled all holidays to Tunisia until the 31st October 2016. Following the attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis and in the resort of Sousse, the number of international visitors to Tunisia fell to 5.2 million in 2015 from 7.2 million in 2014. Turkey have also reported a steep 50% drop in bookings since the bombing in Istanbul this month, proving the theory that the public’s perception of terrorism is that it affects an entire country, not just a city or specific area.
This behaviour is often a direct result of the media hyping events that should just be seen for what they are in the vast majority of situations: random individualised crimes. Potential tourists are exposed to the dramatised media coverage of international political violence and the already volatile relationship between tourism and terrorism is magnified exponentially, which can cloud the actual probability of a tourist being targeted by terrorists. The proposed risk then outweighs reality when forming an opinion about a destination.
But it’s not just the media at fault, leading governments seem unable to think rationally about a terrorist situation. They go in guns blazing in retaliation, making a decision on behalf of their people, to declare war on these states and others, which ultimately generates more unrest and more terrorists.
Can the tourism industry bounce back?
The short answer is yes. People have short memories. A one off attack is likely to be forgotten soon enough which has been proved, particularly in European cities such as London (2007) and Paris (2015) whose tourist numbers were largely unaffected by terrorist activity. The visitor numbers to Paris were back to normal within a week of the attacks. The WTTC reports that on average, it takes 13 months to recover from a terror attack, 21 months from disease, 2 years from environmental disaster and a little longer than that from political unrest.
In the long term, terror attacks do not seem to affect people’s decisions to travel, only the choice of their destination. ABTA has said that the number of people booking overseas holidays has increased by 9% year on year, even in 2015, but UK travellers seem to be favouring western Mediterranean destinations. Experienced travellers are more likely to dismiss the risk of terrorism and it is generally countries experiencing long term strife, such as Egypt, who suffer from a dip in tourist numbers. While countries like Tunisia and Egypt have seen a decline in tourist numbers, Greece, Spain and Portugal have experienced a gain.
Previous cases of terrorism affecting tourism also have some reassuring facts and figures attached to them. In the case of Morocco, the number of UK nationals visiting rose from 380,000 in 2010 to 460,000 in 2014, including a 51,000 increase in 2012, the year after the Marrakesh bombing which killed 15 people. In general, tourism doesn’t seem to have been largely affected by the threat of terror. UNWTO reported a 4.4% increase in the number of international tourists in 2015 and predicts an increase of 4% in 2016. Europe, Asia and the Pacific and the Americas all recorded a growth of around 5% in the number of international arrivals last year.
So we shouldn’t worry too much?
Well, within reason, no, we shouldn’t worry too much.
There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that terrorism is not the scary tourist killer than we’ve been led to believe it is. Despite a series of terrorist incidents since 9/11, the total number of people worldwide that have been killed by terrorists is about the same as the number of those who have drowned in bathtubs in the US. In fact, there are hundreds of statistics out there to foil the belief that we are not safe if we travel.
Between 2001 and 2011, in the UK, terrorism killed as many people as bees and wasps did each year. In November 2015, Mint Press News reported that almost twice as many people have died in attacks by right-wing groups of Christian faith in America than in attacks by Muslim extremists. Of the 26 attacks since 9/11 that the New America Foundation defined as terror, 19 were carried out by non-Muslims. In fact, you are more likely to be killed by a television. The devices themselves literally kill 176 people a year, 55 times more deaths than Islamic terror claims annually. 37,000 Americans died in car accidents and 33,874 are killed by firearms every year, that’s 11,562 times more than the number killed by terrorists.
We should be more afraid of the risks of everyday life at home like sugar, fat, salt and the fact that 100 deaths a day are caused by alcohol. In the UK a staggering two women a day, die at the hands of their partner. You have more chance of being killed by a snake bite, food poisoning, falling off a ladder and even falling out of bed, than you do dying in a terrorist attack. Fifty-eight people have been killed in terrorist incidents in the UK this century, which means the chances of meeting your maker this way, is 1 in 15.8 million. In fact, in the aftermath of 9/11, Americans took to the roads more out of fear of flying and caused 1595 extra road deaths that year; that’s half the number of people that died at the World Trade Centre.
Did you know that in 2015 there were 386 terrorist incidents across the world? Only 18 of those were directed at tourist locations or at westerners in their home towns. That’s less than 5% of all terrorist attacks in 2015. In 12 months, 237 people died as a result of these attacks; more have died in one plane crash. Most of the targets for terrorism are on the ground in their home countries resulting from already established wars such as those in Syria, North-West Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya and Nigeria.
There is no pattern to terror attacks on tourist destinations. It could happen anywhere. It could happen in your home town. So long as you follow your instincts and government advice about specific areas that are at war or in political turmoil, you are as safe travelling as you are in your own country. The current national threat level in the UK is high to severe, in the US it is elevated. The threat level is also high in Turkey, Egypt, France and Spain. Only you as a traveller know where you are willing to put yourself, nobody can decide your level of safety for you, just make sure you are truly informed of the risks of each destination.
What are governments and tourist boards doing about terrorism?
We can all criticise the government’s decisions on tackling terrorism but they have a difficult job because it is almost impossible to wage a war against organisations that are not a conventional state. That said, there are many things that people believe they should be doing, or not doing, in order to improve the situation.
Did you know that Al-Qaeda was born from the USA? In President Ronald Regan’s fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, the US trained thousands of Islamic extremists as soldiers for the US. In 2010, Hilary Clinton admitted, “we trained them, we equipped them, we funded them, including somebody named Osama Bin Laden, and it didn’t work so well for us.” Despite experiencing the failings of the war against terror and their part in starting it, countries of the western world still supply these terrorist organisations with weapons and support countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar who fund them.
Surely we need to take a tougher stance against these countries, stop selling them weapons and stop giving them money? We need to promote renewable energy so that we are not so reliant on these countries for oil, stop mass surveillance which makes us vulnerable and stop torturing people which motivates terrorists. We need to stop drone strikes that kill innocent civilians. If we stop supporting these groups financially, they will not have the ability to continue their work, drone strikes wouldn’t be seen as essential and less people would die.
With tourism being such a huge market, tourist boards are starting to catch on. Following the shut down of Brussels at the end of last year, Visit Brussels, the official communications agency for promoting tourism in Brussels created an initiative called “Call Brussels”. People, specifically potential tourists from around the world could call public phones in the city for free and ask residents questions about their security concerns or everyday life in the city.
Travel agencies and flight companies also cut prices, promoting individual destinations within countries by isolating them for many tourists who are not so strong with geography. Egypt did this with Sharm-el-Sheik many years ago and until recently, it worked; people stopped associating it with the political turmoil of Egypt and saw it as a holiday destination. Increased security and army presence at tourist hubs, on major highways and in airports have also helped, proved by the tourist boom at Cartagena in Colombia, despite the country’s continuing war with leftist guerrillas.
What can tourists do to fight against tourism?
Walter Mzembi PHD - Zimbabwe’s Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry and UNWTO’s Regional Commission for Office Chair, wisely said, “When humanity stands together, not on the basis of hard power, but on the basis of its humanness, fundamentalist terrorism can eventually be defeated.” Tourism isn’t just about sun tans and souvenirs, it brings cultures together. At the end of the day, we are all the same. If we can see past religion, politics and cultural differences, the world can fight together against terror. Never forget the phrase that became so infamous after the attempted stabbing in Leytonstone underground station in London at the end of last year. “You ain’t Muslim bruv.” That man was British and a Muslim, and he stood together with people of all cultures under the ground that day and fought against the so called Islamic State.
Deny terrorists their victory by refusing to be a victim. Show no fear and refuse to alter your lifestyle. The best way to support countries that have come under attack is to visit them first hand and fill social media with wonderful stories and pictures of a place that you know is safe to be in. Protest against terrorism with your passport, a symbol of freedom. Know the true risk and don’t seek out horror stories about terrorism. Remember and understand that the media’s job is to sensationalise world events. Be informed and be cautious where necessary, but don’t give in to alarmism, speculation, bias and uncertainty. Remember the statistics. you have more chance of dying in a car crash tomorrow. The number of tourists killed by terrorists is a tiny proportion of the billions who have travelled safely.
Most importantly, hate breeds terrorism. Don’t get irrationally angry against the entire country that the terrorists originate from. Don’t take out that anger on nearby people who look like they might be from that country and don’t accept a similar reaction from your leaders. If you attack people, you give them motivation to retaliate.
How can tourists stay vigilant?
Most importantly, when you are considering travel abroad, always check the government’s travel advice. While I would remind you that it is not always an entire country affected by terror or political unrest, take the advice literally and decide for yourself what is best for you. Check social media, ask questions, read blogs on your chosen destination to get a real picture of the situation there.
If you do decide to travel, please buy travel insurance, it is not a waste of money if something should happen. It is not only useful in the wake of a potential terror threat, there are other risks to travelling such as illness, medical emergencies, muggings and theft, loss of your passport or your luggage and natural disasters.
Make copies of your important documents such as your passport, accommodation confirmation, family contact numbers and insurance policies and keep them digitally too. Make sure you have a contact number for your embassy and that you are always aware of where your local embassy is. Keep in contact with people at home, even if it’s just posting on social media. If something happens, they will want to know where you are.
If something should go wrong while you are travelling, follow the government’s policy of “Run, Hide, Tell” which you can find more information about here.
Stay safe, use your instincts and be streetwise. Be informed, be rational and enjoy your travels abroad in the knowledge that you are not giving in to terrorism!
Let us know how you feel about tourism and terrorism. Are you still travelling?
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