Tourism and Terrorism: protecting paradise

We tend to associate tourism with longed-for breaks, overseas adventures and the interruption of our daily routine by a couple of days’ rest and relaxation in ‘paradise’. Yet recent terrorist attacks at tourist destinations, from the beaches of Tunisia to the shrines of Bangkok and the city centre of Paris to hotels in Mali, are having a negative impact on the once widespread belief that vacations were not only an escape from the trials and tribulations of daily life but also an excursion from the political woes we witness at home on the news. Candida Cadavez discusses how the tourism industry has to adapt and incorporate the new practices necessitated by the security constraints of an ever-changing world.

Even if tourism is academically defined as an activity pursued for leisure or business purposes, whose participants spend at least twenty-four hours away from home, tourism is usually associated with relaxation, paradisiacal imagery and exoticism. Safety and security are obviously important components of the tourist ‘paradise’, where destinations should provide an environment of tolerance, and where our different cultural, political or religious backgrounds can cohabit peacefully (as expressed by the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, UNWTO, 1999). Respecting the various traditions, values and heritage of the places we visit is not only morally desirable, but a fundamental element of tourism.

Attacks on Tourism-related Environments

Thinking back to the 80s and 90s, it is easy to recall numerous instances in which tourists became victims of terrorism: the 1985 Achille Lauro hijack, the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, or the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games bombing.

Since the turn of the new millennium, the tourism industry has been forced to respond to other incidents, whose global impact and widespread media coverage have made them impossible to forget. The targets of atrocities have often been iconic heritage sites, landmarks or frequently visited tourist destinations. Examples of these include, in 2001, the Bamiyan Statues in Afghanistan or the Twin Towers in New York; in 2002 at the Dubrovka Theatre in Russia; or, in March 2015, at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. Particularly after the 2015 attacks in Paris, there seems to be a new threat emerging of terrorists specifically targeting tourist attractions and destinations. This was confirmed later in November 2015 when hostages were seized at a hotel in Mali and at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Brussels, or when, in January 2016, tourists were stabbed at a hotel in the Egyptian resort of Hurghada.

As part of their traditional strategy of targeting the innocent, the latest breed of terrorist has, beyond doubt, realised that tourist destinations are the perfect targets and that both the industry itself and the daily lives of the surrounding communities can be completely disrupted. From the point of view of the perpetrators, tourist venues are not only frequented by multinational visitors intending to spend relaxing moments in ‘paradise’, but they also attract the attention of international media, and are of fundamental importance to regional and national economies. Any sort of attack on a leisure or tourist site is guaranteed media coverage, thus promoting the alleged cause and motivations of the perpetrators.

A comprehensive list of the immediate consequences of a terrorist attack is too long to draw up, as it disrupts the routines of so many stakeholders. The immediate aftermath of the attacks in November on a Cambodian restaurant, a football stadium and a theatre hosting a concert located in Paris – an iconic tourist destination, which had attracted over 84 million visitors in 2014 – is a very clear demonstration of the degree of disruption a successful attack can have. In fact, immediately after the attacks, France was joined by other Western countries to declare a state of emergency in several regions that are usually popular tourist destinations. As a result, free movement between some European countries was temporarily restricted, and monuments, museums, churches and theme parks were closed. France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the United States of America increased visible security presence on the streets and clearly stressed how tourist attractions, airports and railway stations would remain under heavy surveillance.

Even before the Paris attacks, in July 2015 Morocco had announced more security at airports and beaches. Aberdeen Airport was evacuated last October, and so was one of the terminals at Lisbon Airport in the following month, both following security scares. In November 2015, the US alerted its public to the risks of traveling to an extended list of destinations and Tunisia joined the list of countries implementing a state of emergency.

Consequently, it is clear that an industry generating an abundance of direct and indirect job opportunities worldwide should be concerned about the hindrance of its economic development and downturn in revenues. By the end of June 2015, Tunisia estimated that it would lose around $515 million from its tourist industry for 2015 after the beach attack; and one month after the violent acts in Paris (i.e. two weeks prior to the festivities of New Year’s Eve), it was publicly declared that the number of flight and hotel reservations in the French capital had dropped dramatically.

How the Tourist Industry will have to Adapt

Only a few years ago, going through security procedures at airports, ports, museums or hotels was usually considered by tourism stakeholders as something very close to being a needless, ridiculous role play, which did not need to be taken too seriously. Actually, to many of the stakeholders in the tourism industry, from tour operators to the tourists themselves, security measures were viewed as annoying and disturbing rigmaroles, which one tolerated despite the seemingly absurd waste of time and money, and the drain on human resources. Unless you were travelling to Israel or other higher risk destinations, profiling, screening, body searches and other forms of inspection were there just to disrupt the beginning of your holiday! Airline station managers would assess security procedures while grinning sarcastically and sub-consciously calculating how much they would have to spend on possible, and pointless, resultant flight delays; hotel managers would seriously ponder before ‘desecrating’ lobbies – the first impression many guest will have of their holiday accommodation – to install security equipment, and tourists would try as hard as they could to point out the absurdity of being interviewed and/or having their bodies and luggage searched by people they did not recognise as authorities.