The effects of terror attacks on tourism
By Kunal Bhatia
What comes to mind immediately when one mentions Paris, Brussels or Ankara? Perhaps one may think of stunning monuments such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Brussels’ Grand Place square or the imposing Anitkabir Mausoleum in Ankara.
One may also smile fondly at the thoughts of unique cultures and hospitable people: the baguette-loving French, beer-drinking Belgians or tea-sipping Turks. The three cities are truly global in terms of the sights, sounds, tastes, and experiences that they offer to travellers and the manner in which they showcase their respective national identities. No wonder then that they are popular destinations for visitors from across the world.
Alas, apart from their cultural treasures, these three cities – like many others globally – now also share similarities of a destructive kind: the ones caused by deadly terror attacks. Despite increasing awareness and heightened security measures, terror has struck at the very soul of these cities.
In October 2015, bombs exploded outside Ankara Central Railway station killing over one hundred people. In November 2015, a series of bombs went off at public venues in Paris including a sports stadium and cafes. And most recently, in March 2016, Brussels was shaken by two bombings at its airport and one at a metro station.
The effects of terror attacks are disastrous at many levels – from the immediate loss of life and destruction of property to a more long-lasting sense of doom and despair.
Terror attacks have a far-reaching consequence on many sectors, including tourism and hospitality. Tourism is an important source of income in many countries across the world, and globally the industry accounts for about one-third of the world’s trade of services and over 6% of overall exports of goods and services.
In India, for instance, the tourism sector contributes about 6.6% to the nation’s GDP, and by creating nearly 40 million jobs, it supports 7.7% of the total employment in the country.
Tourism industry has potential to bounce back
With ease of travelling and a sense of safety being the top priority for travellers across the world, any terror attacks or untowardly instances are bound to have a cascading effect on tourism. Globally, this was witnessed most clearly immediately after the 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks in New York City in 2001. The travel and tourism industry which was until then accounting for one of every 12 jobs globally, almost ground to a halt after the attacks.
The effect was felt well beyond the USA with tour groups across the world changing their plans, hotel occupancy rates diving down and airlines experiencing a reduced demand for tickets.
The foremost result of a terror attack is almost always a slew of cancellations, especially by leisure travellers and to a certain extent also by business travellers. However, the nature of cancellations has been changing over time. And while there is no pleasant manner in which to put this across, given the high number of terror-incidents that the world has faced in the past decade, the bounce-back time has been reducing slowly.
For example, a study carried out by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) found that even after the Madrid train bombings of 2004, tourist arrivals to Spain returned to “pre-bombing levels” in a matter of weeks, while the bombings in London in 2005 had “no notable impact on tourist arrivals in the UK”.
Based on its analysis of impacts at the country level, the WTTC has said that “previous large-scale terrorist attacks in major European capitals have had a decidedly limited impact on overall tourism in the country.”
Apart from the scale and nature of the attacks, perception also plays an important part in terror’s long term impact on tourism. After the Bardo National Museum in Tunisia was attacked in March 2015, the Tourism Ministry reported over 3,000 holiday cancellations and reservations fell by 60%.
If a destination is perceived to be continuously under the threat of a terror attack, then recovery is slower and more challenging. On the other hand, when terror attacks at a destination are perceived to be a one-off incident rather than a norm, the recovery period tends to be much quicker.
In conclusion, comparative data from the WTTC study helps understand the impact of terror on the tourism industry when compared to other detrimental factors. The study found that tourism at a destination takes 21 months to bounce back after a disease-outbreak, 24 months to recover after an environmental disaster and as many as 27 months to get back on track after political unrest. In comparison, after a terrorist attack, the tourism industry takes only 13 months to recover to pre-attack levels.
Nonetheless, often interesting historic structures that need to be cherished and admired are destroyed by senseless acts of terrorist and fundamentalist groups as in Palmyra, in Syria. Keeping the statistics aside, it is needless to add that global efforts to fight terror should be strengthened at all levels and the responsibility lies collectively with individuals, corporations, and governments.