BY Demola Ojo
In the aftermath of the unfortunate shooting incident at the Grand-Bassam beach resort in Ivory Coast last Sunday, there are valid fears on the adverse effect it will have on West African economies that earn income from tourism, especially considering the fact that there were recent attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Popular hotels and resorts, some in famous tourist destinations have over the years been targets for despicable characters whose main motive is not just to maim, kill and destroy, but also create major media events that inspire fear and confusion which in turn gets people to alter their behavior. These attacks are aimed at tainting a city or country, thus preventing merry makers and fun seekers from visiting.
The think tank Global Research found that, in 2011, US citizens were nine times more likely to have been killed by a police officer than a terrorist. By overreacting to terrorist incidents and by extension allowing them to disrupt our economy and our way of life, we increase the value to terrorists of committing them according to Nate Silver, founder of the statistical information website FiveThirtyEight.
The silver lining for countries that are economically dependent on tourism is that the sector recovers fast from such incidents. In the wake of the attacks in Paris November last year, a Fortune 500 report in conjunction with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) says it takes tourism 13 months to recover from a terrorist attack.
By comparison, tourism takes longer to bounce back from disease (21 months), an environmental disaster (24 months), and political unrest (27 months). Tourism’s recovery after a natural disaster takes longer because it often requires the rebuilding of infrastructure—often a time-consuming endeavor.
The WTTC said that based on its analysis of impacts at the country level; “previous large-scale terrorist attacks in major European capitals have had a decidedly limited impact on overall tourism in the country.”
The trade group looked specifically at the train bombings in Madrid in 2004 and found that tourist arrivals to Spain returned to “pre-bombing levels” in a matter of weeks. It continued that the bombings in London in 2005 had “no notable impact on tourist arrivals in the UK at all.”
Another example that lends credence to this position is the strong growth in the number of UK nationals going to Morocco, rising from 308,000 in 2010 to 460,000 in 2014. This included a 51,000 increase in 2012, the year after the Marrakesh bombing, which killed 15 people.
Bali, in Indonesia, is another tourist hotspot to have been the victim of terrorist attacks, in 2002 and 2005. By the time of the 2005 attack, the Indonesian island had witnessed a 20,000 increase in British tourists from the previous year, according to figures from the Bali Tourism Office.
That progress was temporarily interrupted, with a 13,000 drop in 2006, but the tourism industry has since recovered with an increase in British visitors every year – and more than twice as many in 2014 as there had been a decade earlier.
One-off events vs long-term strife
Overall, the figures suggest that the tourism industry in countries enduring long-term strife, such as Egypt, suffers more than those affected by individual terror attacks.
Yeganeh Morakabati, an expert in risk and tourism at Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom, stated that short term, a terrorist incident would put some people off. However, longer term, people have short memories and will forget.
Even then, promoting individual destinations within countries can help overcome this. Egypt has in the past done isolated marketing with Sharm el-Sheikh. The idea is that many tourists, who are not so strong with geography, may almost not see it as part of Egypt.
This has happened since the revolution of 2011, with big cities, including Cairo, being seen as more at risk of attacks. But this ignores the fact that, in 2005, bomb attacks on Sharm el-Sheikh, which is on the Red Sea, killed 88 people.
Again, governments have a financial incentive to protect the tourism industry and therefore will often enforce increased security and a regular military presence at popular tourist destinations like has been done in the Ivory Coast with President Alhassan Outtara vowing that “..our march towards economic emergence is irreversible. The progress we’ve made in the past four years must be further reinforced.”
Colombia’s boom in tourism in recent decades has coincided with increased security and a regular army presence on major highways and tourist hubs, such as Cartagena, even though the country’s war with leftist guerrillas continues.
Similarly Mexico’s tourist zones have been largely unaffected by the violence that has rendered other parts of the country ungovernable.
Apart from government support in the area of security, another way popular tourist destinations seeking revival maintain demand is by cutting prices. Simon Calder, travel editor of The Independent stated that “A very good way of getting people to go to destinations which have suffered at the hands of terrorists is to cut prices… We can make a cost-risk analysis. As long as we know the risks, that’s a reasonable thing to do.”
“However I would happily go to Egypt, to Turkey, to Tunisia because, although there’s much more significant risk of a terrorist attack in those places than there is in most tourist destinations, the chances of being involved are still very, very small.”
Despite the fact that hotels and resorts housing Westerners are sometimes targets for terrorists, they are in the hospitality business and can’t turn themselves into fortresses.
However there are a few steps being taken to beef up security in comparison to say, two decades ago. Now many hotels have effective armed security guards who can fight off terrorists. Nigeria’s premier hotel in Abuja is an example of a place that combines high security with a leisurely ambience.
Of recent, many hotels install airport-type metal detectors for all guests and also screen hotel workers carefully. Many hotels also use bomb detecting machines to screen cars.
It is critical for tourists to keep travel hazards in context, reality is there is a much greater statistical chance of tourists being injured or killed in a car accident during a visit to Europe or Asia than there is of them being directly impacted by any terrorist event according to Neil Fergus, chief executive of Intelligent Risks (IR) and an expert on International terrorism.
The advice to tourists is to be alert not alarmed.
Additional advice is to rely less on social media channels, such as Twitter, in the event of a major incident abroad and more on mainstream media like THISDAY, BBC or Al-Jazeera as this are mediums less likely to issue incorrect or unconfirmed information.