OPINION: It is under the shadow of global violence and terrorism that we welcome the World Tourism Day on September 27 this year. Earlier in March this year, three suicide bombings at the Brussels Airport and Zaventem subway station killed over 35 people and injured many. In July, a Tunisian truck driver launched an ISIS-inspired attack in Nice on the French Riviera. Also in July, 292 people were killed by a truck bombing at a shopping mall in Baghdad, Iraq. Across the Atlantic, in the US, a couple shot down their colleagues in the name of ISIS. The list goes on and on. Terrorism it seems, is everywhere. Being a tourist, it seems, could be a deadly whim.
As expected, the effect on the global tourism trade has been severe. A UBS report, found that global tourism spendings were down 14 percent in June as a result of terror attacks. The Nice aftermath serves as sample of disrupted economic activity that terror stricken tourist spot face in the aftermath. After Nice attack, pop star Rihanna cancelled her scheduled concert, the prestigious annual Nice Jazz Festival canceled its four-day event. Cruise liners cancelled their trips and the French town saw a marked decline in tourist bookings.
The shutdown in Brussels cost close to $58 million per day during the lockdown as per figures by the Belgian broadcaster VRT.
After the attack on Istanbul airport, tourism in Turkey, one of the top destinations for tourists globally has seen its revenue take a hit, and Moody’s has changed its rating to ‘junk’.
Not just Nice, but Egypt, France, Tunisia, and Turkey have all seen drops in visitors from 11 to 20% following terror attacks. Many of these attacks, specifically targeted tourists.
While tourists have tried to be stoic but repeated incidents are wearing their confidence thin. World media reported on the likes of 31-year-old travel entrepreneur Jared Kamrowski who initially stuck to his plans to visit Turkey even after the January 2016 bombings. But with more bombings later he just could not dare to continue with his plans.
Many say that the present terror attacks and the subsequent dip in terror is nothing news. As per the Global Terrorism Database, there have been over 16,000 attacks in Western Europe since 1971. An average of 350 per year. The highest number of deaths came in 1988 at 440. The Pan Am flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland contributed majorly to the number in the year. Again, 2004 saw the highest number of people injured at 1,853 after the attacks in Madrid, Spain.
The like of Yeganeh Morakabati, an associate professor at Bournemouth University in the UK who studies the link between tourism and terrorism said that if history is a guide, tourists will come back. She backed her statement by research and data that showed dips in tourist arrivals in Egypt, UK and Spain after terror attacks. But they returned to normal after a while.
Yet, it is difficult to not feel a bit cynical. After the terror attacks in Paris there was a general sentiment that said that ‘we must not give in to terror and continue with our lives as usual’. But it is difficult to see what that phrase really means after repeated attacks. Positive sentiment is nearly not enough anymore.
One simply just can’t wish for the terrorism to go away and hope that no incidents ever happen. Hope is just not a strategy in this situation.
What is needed is for the countries of the world to unite in making tourism safe again. The terrorists wage a war without borders. And it will take a united world to stop them. We need a global database of terrorists and those suspected to help countries flag them before they enter their boundaries. The technology and security at airports, trains stations and all public spaces needs to be upgraded to deter those with nefarious plans.
Tourism fosters global understanding and awareness of diverse cultures. It shows us how we are all human despite following different religions, cultures and ideals. It would indeed be a great loss to humanity to have it falter in the hands of extremists who aim for the just the opposite.
Musafir Namah Bureau