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Travel companies should be prepared for fresh terror attacks in destinations, but should not fear a downturn in overall bookings.
That was the view of an industry panel at Travlaw’s Big Tent Event in London.
Travel writer and broadcaster Simon Calder described the killing of tourists in Istanbul on Tuesday of last week as “absolutely awful”.
He said: “What happened will have all sorts of repercussions for people in Turkey and for the industry. It does look like a dangerous world.”
But he argued: “The number of people who travel abroad [from the UK] has increased 60% in 20 years, while the numbers who come to grief have remained pretty constant.”
Asked why the number of attacks appears to have increased, Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “We have built mass tourism in parts of the world that are volatile and unstable. It’s not just that we have 24-hour news media.”
Questioned about Foreign Office (FCO) advice, such as that against all flights to Tunisia following the beach massacre last June, Tanzer said: “The FCO is pragmatic. They weigh decisions very carefully and don’t change travel advice easily. We’re obviously involved, and it’s with a heavy heart they make a decision like that over Tunisia.”
Moderator Chris Photi of White Hart Associates pointed out that the recent security scare in Brussels and the massacre in Paris in November did not prompt the same FCO reaction as the beach killings in Tunisia.
But Tanzer said: “The Foreign Office is adamant they don’t make political decisions. They look at the level of disruption and the feasibility of restrictions.”
Calder added: “It is demonstrably the case that if you are a tourist in Egypt or in Tunisia you are targeted because you represent the best way for terrorists to succeed. In Paris, people were harmed as bystanders rather than as tourists. That is demonstrably different to tourists being targeted.”
He also pointed out how quickly global media attention shifts, arguing: “The sharper the focus on a particular location, the less attention is paid to last year’s situations. Remember Ebola?”
Calder said: “The travel industry should not be on the back foot. It should say, ‘We’ll sell you holidays as safe as we can make them’. We all have to tolerate some risk.”
Tanzer identified “keeping up the level of consumer confidence” as the biggest single issue for the sector. He said: “We need to give good-quality information to consumers. It is going to be choppy water. This isn’t going to change.”
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