Since the September 11 2001 attacks on the twin towers in the United States, the number of terrorist attacks around the world has increased significantly in recent years. They now number by the thousands per year, and, so too is the death toll. Without doubt, such attacks have definitely taken a toll on global tourism, and if left unchecked, will continue to impact global tourism in various ways.
In countries which are plagued with terrorist attacks such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria, they are unlikely to attract many international tourists. However, the concerns and focus are now on nations and cities that traditionally attract large number of tourists, and many of them are in Europe. For example, several terrorist attacks were carried out recently at German cities like Ansbach, Berlin, Munich and Wurtburgin 2016 . The attack on Berlin was particularly significant as it was carried out during the Christmas period. Other attacks targeted at European cities during the same year included Brussels (Belgium), Nice (France), Antarturk Airport, Ankara, and Gaziantep (Turkey). London and Manchester, highly visited cities by tourists, in the UK were also not spared, suffering several attacks in 2016 and 2017. The latest attack, at the point of this writing, occurred in Las Vegas on 1 October 2017. Carried out by a lone wolf, 60 people were killed and over 500 were injured.
Tourist sites are certainly soft and vulnerable targets to terrorist attacks. They are not easy to defend from a security perspective. In addition, the terrorists can also “disguise” like tourists, and are harder to detect. When casualties occur, especially when they involve various nationalities, they tend to receive international media coverage readily and attract more global attention. This allows the terrorist organization behind the attack to register its cause even more prominently. Not surprisingly, tourist sites will continue to be targets for terrorist attacks.
Indeed, the toll on tourism as a result of terrorist attacks has begun to show. For example, Chinese tourists are now more hesitant to visit countries like France and Germany. Instead, they are increasingly opting for places like Scandinavia and Eastern Europe where they are perceived to be less affected by terrorist attacks . This has several implications. First, as Chinese form the largest number of tourists around the world, any significant shift of where they intend to visit will certainly impact global tourism.
Second, and this is something that governments of the respective countries cannot ignore – increasing number of attacks are happening in Europe and European cities that are the traditional destinations of tourists. There is certainly a need to deal with terrorism in these cities/ nations in more decisive ways if they hope to sustain their earnings from tourism. The point here is not that global tourism will drop significantly. In fact, according to various reports, including that of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), global tourist arrivals grew annually between 3.5% to 5.0% for the period 2014 to 2016, and is expected to register the same growth rate for 2017. Rather, there will be significant and noticeable re-alignment of places to visit if terrorist attacks continue to increase in places which are traditionally favored by international tourists.
Third, with increased terrorist threats, tourists may opt for holidays that are nearer home that includes destinations in neighboring countries or even within the country itself, especially when they are less prone to terrorist attacks. The substitution of domestic for international holidays is a definite possibility, especially in large countries like China, the US, and Australia.