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Terrorism and the tourist trap

07 June 2011 Inderscience

Climate change poses a greater risk to travellers and the tourism industry than the threat of terrorism. That is the conclusion of a study published in the current issue of the International Journal of Tourism Policy.

Tahir Rashid and Neil Robinson of the Salford Business School at the University of Salford in Greater Manchester explain how in recent years the proliferation of terrorist atrocities has had a negative impact on the tourism industry enhanced somewhat by the global media revolution. However, the reality is that the potential risk to the general holidaying public is much less than the potentially apocalyptic scenarios described by "tabloid" media outlets, whereas the risks associated with environmental mismanagement and global warming could be far greater.

The tourism industry is very diverse embracing conventional package holidays, self-catering accommodation, touring and adventure holidays, cruises and even exploratory backpacking. It is overall a resource intensive industry and impacts upon many disparate parts of global commerce. At the lower level, tourism creates employment and allows foreign exchange to take place so impinging on the redistribution of income and leading to development in tourist destinations. On the more macro-economic scale, the tourism industry brings economic, cultural and political stability to countries where manufacturing and production are often limited. For all its benefits, an increase in tourism can be greatly beneficial to the destinations.

However, tourism industry is greatly fragmented, has high staff turnover, is commonly seasonal and while large corporations such as airlines and hotel chains command a large proportion of the industry financial turnover, they do little for local infrastructure or for the local people, in contrast to smaller concerns in tourism.

The development of terrorism, particularly during the decade since "9/11" has left many tourists feeling vulnerable, especially given sensationalist reporting in the media and the rapid dissemination of threats and attacks from all parts of the globe. "Tourists are often seen as being highly vulnerable to these negative impacts associated with travel when away from the confines of the safe home environment," the researchers say. "Being outside the institutional bubble (away from home) creates a number of problems; these generally appear as language barriers, currency uncertainties, geographical problems, infrastructure incompatibility and wider host-visitor relationship factors."

Recent examples of how terrorism has affected tourism include Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, South Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s, "Yugoslavia" in recent years, as well as the USA in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Visitor numbers to these and many other tourist destinations have been negatively affected by what the researchers call, "a perceived fear or perceived poor political security." Of course, immediately after terrorist activity, many places are perhaps more safe and secure than they had been prior to the attack.

The researchers suggest that, "While terrorism is a menace to the world and the tourism industry, in our opinion the fallout from it has been considerably hyped up by the media and politicians playing on people's fear." They point out that the chances of dying of cancer are almost 13000 times greater than dying in a terrorist attack, a fatal car accident is 1000 times more likely and the chances of dying in a plane crash are 11,000 times greater than dying in a terrorist plot involving an aircraft. Moreover, earthquakes, tsunami, tornadoes, hurricanes, old and new diseases, kill people in numbers very much larger than terrorist activity and the as yet unknown threats of global climate change, desertification, loss of fresh water and healthcare failure may represent still greater risks to tourists and everyone else alike.

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