Traveling in the age of terrorism: Americans seek alternative vacation options

December 15, 2016

Although more people are traveling today than they ever have before in history, the fear of terrorism has had an affect on where people are choosing to travel, but not usually for much longer than a month or so after an attack.

Tourism is a booming industry with 1 billion tourists having  traveled internationally between the months of January and September in 2016, according to the World Tourism Organization.

Tourism grew by five and six percent in  Northern, Central and Eastern Europe according the the World Tourism Organization.

However, not all countries are on the up-and-up. In 2016, Western Europe saw a one percent decrease in tourism, according to the World Tourism Organization.

Threats of terrorism and political unrest in a few European countries are attributed to the recent decline, according to the European Travel Commission quarterly report.

When booking trips travel agents are receiving questions about safety that go beyond the usual pickpocket or which areas to avoid at night. Terrorism is on the minds of many travelers, said Cathy Nystrom, travel agent with Edwards LaLone Travel.

“That always comes up these days,” said Nystrom. “It’s unfortunately become a way of life for us.”

Two countries have suffered more than others in terms of tourism over the past two years: Belgium and Turkey.

The number of Americans traveling to Belgium has decreased by 25 percent since 2015 and 37 percent less in Turkey “due to political unrest and terror threats,” according to the European Travel Commission quarterly report.

“In the last few months [tourism to Turkey has] pretty much tanked,” Nystrom said. “It’s a lot to do with government warnings and the environment feels too risky to Americans.”

Turkey has been on the U.S. State department travel warning list over the past year with the most recent warning released October 29, 2016.

The U.S. government also issued an alert on Europe on November 21, urging travelers to “exercise caution at holiday festivals, events and outdoor markets” due to the heightened risk of terrorist attacks, according to the U.S. department of state.

United states citizens were not alone in their avoidance of Belgium and Turkey. Tourists, both Europeans and non-Europeans, tended to avoid those two countries in 2016, according to the European Travel Commission quarterly report.

However, the terrorist attacks have not put people off of traveling altogether.  People simply travel to other countries instead.

“Those people who are experienced travelers still traveled,” Anciaux said. “They might just look at a different destination.”

There has been a double digit percentage increase in the number of people traveling to Spain, Hungary Portugal and Ireland, according to the World Tourism Organisation.

Cruises have also been a hot ticket item over the past few years.

“Cruising is still strong,” Anciaux said.  “People feel very safe on a cruise ship.”

However, a few months after an attack people will begin to start traveling to those countries again, Anciaux said.

After a major terrorist attack people will avoid that area for a month or so but usually the effect of the attack doesn’t last long, Anciaux said.

Some travel agents speculate that perhaps the reason people return after a lull to those countries is because the fear is no longer at the forefront of their minds.

“I don’t know if we’ve just become more accustomed or our memories are shorter about the fear,” Nystrom said.

Despite these travel trends, many people are still traveling to places the U.S government has issued warnings and alerts.

Edwards LaLone Travel continues to book trips to Europe every day, Nystrom said.

AAA also continues to book trips to Europe.

“It’s amazing how price can make a difference,” Anciaux said. “Pricing to Paris is very low right now. They kinda forget about the fear.

American students also continue to study abroad. One in 10 undergraduates study abroad before graduating, according to the Institute of International Education’s open doors data. The top three places students travel are the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.

Students are also traveling to countries with U.S. travel warnings. The number of students studying abroad in Belgium increased 9.3% between 2015 and 2016, according to the Institute of International Education’s open doors data.

Gonzaga University’s study abroad program is one of the programs which continues to see students who want to go to those European cities that have been targets of terrorist attacks, said Richard Menard the director of study abroad at Gonzaga.

Similar trends have been occurring at Whitworth University, said Sue Jackson director of study abroad programs at Whitworth.

“Of the students who know they want to study abroad, they’re still studying abroad,” Jackson said.

Whitworth University is sending a student to Belgium Spring 2017.

Senior at St. Louis University, Blessing Kuebee, who studied abroad in Belgium during the time of the March 20 attack said she can’t wait to go back.

“Some of the same elements that occur in an act that is labeled as a terrorist attack happen here, in my hometown,” said Kuebee. “Why should I let that stop me from traveling?”

The sentiment that bad things happen everywhere seems to be a recurring theme with travelers.
“People look at the world and go it’s not a safe place,” Menard said. “But my response is that if you look at the 50 most dangerous cities in the world the US cities are on there. It’s not much more safe here.”

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