When terrorist attacks happen, two things spiral in the travel and tourism industry: first, potential travellers get scared off; and second, the country that’s been victimized gets a tarnished reputation.
“Terrorism has created a heightened sense of fear and greater concerns around security in the travel industry,” said Leigh Barnes, regional director of North America, Intrepid Group. “There can be a potential challenge to get people to look beyond the headlines and feel comfortable travelling."
Of the 195 countries in the world, two billion people live in areas where violence and conflict run rampant. According to World Bank, as of 2015, the world saw more than 65 million refugees and internally displaced persons depart their homelands and seek safety in a new country.
Political conflict severely disrupts a nation’s opportunity for future economic development, especially where travel and tourism is concerned. When violence is prominent, travellers retreat, foreign spending freezes, and in turn, the afflicted country’s tourism suffers.
Tourists can be directly or indirectly affected by terrorism. In some cases, terrorists deliberately target foreign visitors because they generate large crowds in public spaces. In other instances, tourists become targets unwillingly as innocent bystanders, such as in the September 11th attacks on the United States, back in 2001.
Depending on the severity of the attacks, terrorism can severely damage a nation’s tourism sector. The 9/11 attacks, for example, forever changed airport security measures in America and beyond. Random attacks, such as 9/11 tend to have short-lived effects. Travel to places like North America, which is generally regarded as economically-stable and safe, picks up again. “Once travellers experience these areas, they are more apt to tell others about the misconceptions,” Barnes said. “These real-life experiences can change people’s perspectives.”
Historic monuments attract millions of tourists from all over the world, and terrorists tend to plan attacks in places that will draw the largest crowd.
Chronic attacks, however, such as the events in particular areas of the Middle East or Africa, can keep tourists from visiting for a very long time. Presumably violent nations who still see wars or genocides develop a bad reputation, and despite conflict or violence often breaking out in only one area, the entire country becomes regarded as unsafe. Media reports on gun violence in Mexico, for example, often persuades resort-goers to frequent other affordable tropical destinations like Cuba or Central America, which has seen little to no outbursts of terror-related violence.
In a recent joint report published by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) in May 2016, called Tourism As a Driver of Peace, findings illustrate a direct link between tourism and increased world peace, especially in regions where terrorist attacks run rampant.
South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, MENA (Middle East and North Africa), South America and the Asia-Pacific have a higher occurrence of terrorist-related events, whereas Europe, Russia and Eurasia, North America, and Central America and the Caribbean have a lower score.
Shopping centres and plazas have been targetted in the past by terrorists.
Travel to less popular, off-the-grid destinations is becoming more popular, but that also means more and more travellers are visiting places where violence is prominent.
The findings in Tourism As a Driver of Peace show that more and more people are crossing international borders, and there is an insatiable appetite to learn about foreign places, experiences and cultures. “One of the most powerful things about travel is its ability to break down barriers, foster connections and create greater understanding of the world we live in,“ Barnes said. “When you travel, your heart and mind are open to new ideas and news ways of thinking. Often times, the most challenging destinations can be the most rewarding.”
According to the report, the world is increasingly targeted by terrorism, with terrorism-related deaths rising by 80 per cent in 2014. Civilian deaths increased by 172 per cent due to terrorism-related activities from 2013-2014, and the global economic costs of terrorism grew to a staggering $52.9 billion in 2014, up from $32.9 billion just the year before. Since 2008, 31 countries have experienced terror attacks where tourists are the direct target. However, despite the attacks, as Barnes points out, the travel and tourism industry is more resilient than ever.
Public squares where markets and vendors open up shop are often prime targets, due to the sheer amount of people who frequent them at any given time.
“There has never been a more important time to travel and to make meaningful connections with other cultures around the world,” Barnes said. “Travel breeds compassion and dispels ignorance. It is one of the most powerful tools we have in combating hatred and fear. We need to continue to stand for open borders, acceptance of all people and the power of inclusivity.”