Terrorism and Tourism Resilience
The London car ramming attack and the stabbing of a policemen by a British born jihadist is the latest chapter in a litany of terrorist attacks targeting ordinary people in many parts of the world. As we have experienced many times in recent years, many of the victims, in this case visitors London’s most iconic site, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament were international tourists. Schoolchildren from France, Romanian visitors and Americans had the misfortune to be in the path of a maniac who wanted to prove that by killing and maiming innocent people, his version of his religion made him superior to everybody else.
Car and truck ramming as a Jihadist weapon of choice is not new. On Bastille Day 2016, 84 people (mainly tourists) were killed in Nice by a fanatic driving a truck. Similar targeted rammings have also occurred in the USA, Germany and Israel over the past year. Tourists, have often been the targets of these attacks. The fear of terrorism has impacted on the demand for tourism to many destinations. Since 2014 international tourism arrivals to Turkey have fallen by 50% due to a widespread fear of terrorism in that country following a series of attacks in 2015-16.
As tourism professionals, we need to understand that tourists are targets for terrorists of all types. Publicity is the oxygen which sustains terrorism. ISIS, whether or not they inspired the London terrorist attack have quickly claimed “credit” for the London attack celebrate the blanket global publicity this latest atrocity generated. ISIS and organizations like them, see these atrocities as good for their business of recruiting psychopaths to their cause.
Tourism professionals are not counter terrorism experts. This is a skill we should leave to the military and the police. However, there are some things we can do to minimize tourist exposure to security threats. Travel consultants should urge their clients to look at government travel advisories. They are designed to give travelers security and safety advice before they go. In Australia, UK and Canada it is standard practice for travel professionals to do this but not globally. Part of our consultation to our clients should address safety issues, not to make them paranoid but to exercise our duty of care. When you fly in a plane or sail on a cruise the airline or cruise company explains safety procedures to passengers. While some people pay little attention to these warnings, these preparations save lives.
Many governments provide safety and security advice to passengers departing their country of origin through travel advisories but most destinations fail to provide safety advice to arriving passengers. Honorable exceptions to this include Japan, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Israel and Nepal. Tourists arriving at a new destination, especially when the language and culture is unfamiliar, are at their most vulnerable. Many smart tourists pre-book a meet and greet and at least a night of pre-arranged accommodation and transfer. Yet, many independent travelers don’t and this increases their exposure to risk. This is where tour operators and wholesalers provide an invaluable safety service.
This article does not suggest that the travel industry or the world’s security services can put a stop to random acts of terrorism. However, while the statistical risk of tourists experiencing terrorism is very low, it benefits everybody when travellers are encouraged to be security aware. Governments and the global travel industry are taking the linkage between terrorism and tourism seriously. At the World Travel and Tourism Council’s upcoming Global Tourism Summit April 26-27 in Bangkok, tourism security will be high on the agenda. Counter-terrorism measures to protect the resilience of tourists and the tourism industry is now been taken seriously by transnational government bodies. APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) which involves 27 Pacific rim countries is running a conference focusing on this issue in May 2017. Many national economies rely heavily on tourism and terrorism is tourism’s unnatural enemy.