This year’s attacks on Paris and Brussels have made travellers understandably nervous of visiting Western Europe. Figures from STR, cited by the Wall Street Journal, show the impact that the attack on Belgium had on the region’s travel industry. Hotel occupancy was down to 25% on the night after the Brussels blasts, compared to 82% the previous night. Paris and London were similarly affected, with the capitals’ occupancy rates falling to 67% and 59% respectively.
As the scale of an attack unfolds on rolling news coverage, how can travellers decide whether its safe to go ahead with a trip to an area affected by terrorism?
The short answer is that it’s almost impossible to predict when an attack is going to take place. The decision needs to be entirely yours but below are a few things to consider:
The Foreign Office
The UK Government’s travel advice page (or your country’s equivalent) should be your first port of call. Its constantly updated with the safety and security situation in every country in the world. For example this week it urged football fans travelling to Euro 2016 to be vigilant at all times.
Be wary of the media
It should come as no surprise that the media is not to be 100% trusted. 24-hour news coverage and tabloid newspapers can give a misleading impression of what’s actually happening on the ground. Reporting will tend to focus on the tragedy and loss after an attack, but not necessarily on a community trying to rebuild.
Check social media
With the above in mind, social media offers a far more representative and up-to-date view of the mood in-country. Tweets can be posted instantly by people who are actually in the area, seeing things first-hand. For locations with fewer Twitter users or English speakers, it might be worth seeking advice from fellow travellers on forums like Reddit’s r/Travel or Trip Advisor.
Know your geography
Is the threat limited to a particular area? For example, despite the insurgency in Southern Thailand, the country as a whole is still one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. Can you change plans and visit elsewhere in the country? I had been due to go to Brussels two weeks after the Paris attacks, but in light of the ongoing tensions and police curfews, I rescheduled my trip and headed to Bruges instead.
Tourism is key to the recovery of countries and communities after a disaster. Governments are keen to get tourists back into the country and spending money as quickly as possible. However, you need to consider whether your presence is going to be help or hindrance at that time. By visiting an area so soon after an attack, are you going to be putting security forces unnecessary strain? Should you keep a respectful distance while a community is grieving?