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Terrorism’s Effects On Tourism:
Our Interview with Security and Travel Expert Dr. Peter E. Tarlow

After reading the horrific news about the hostage siege in Sydney, Australia, we turned to Dr. Peter E. Tarlow, a noted security and travel expert, to answer our questions about terrorism and its effects on tourism.

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1. Whenever there’s a high-profile attack in a certain city (New York, Boston, London, Mumbai, Nairobi, Sydney, etc.), do tourism rates and revenues automatically decrease in that city? If so, by how much (dollars, figures, and/or percentages)?

Dr. Tarlow: Tourism rates are often determined by a basket of factors, one of which is security.  A rate drop may depend on how much publicity the attack receives, where the attack occurs, and the story’s lifespan.  Often the number of reporters in a city will also impact that coverage and therefore the attack’s economic fallout.   It is a mistake to have a one-answer-fits-all scenario.  New York suffered after 9-11, but the impact on London was both shorter and less severe.  Tourism in Madrid rebounded almost immediately.

The other factor to take into consideration is a location’s reputation and the number of attacks. For example, Australia has a reputation as a safe location and so the public may view the Sydney attack as an anomaly. A place such as Pakistan has a very different type of reputation and therefore when it suffers from a terrorism attack that adds to its cumulative reputation for being a dangerous place to visit.

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2. After a high-profile attack, do tourism rates and revenues drop across the entire industry? If so, how long does it take to see an uptick in industry numbers after a high-profile incident? 

There is no one formula to determine hotel rates after a terrorism attack. Much depends on if that city experiences cancellations or not. Tourism is a multi-faceted industry and often a lot more resilient than most people believe.  For example, while the lone leisure traveler may cancel, conventions (whose venue is set often years in advance) may well go ahead with the show. The best predictor is how much publicity the terrorist attack produced, how long the story lingers in the news cycle, the number of people who died, if the media present and the public views this attack as the norm or the exception to the rule, and if they were locals or foreign visitors.  The key element here is to realize that tourism leaders must be able to analyze the situation from a multivariate perspective and not be wedded to a single formula.

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3. How do tourism boards, city governments and member of the travel/hospitality industry react to a drop in visits after a terrorist attack? Offer lower rates, stress the infrequency of violence? Is there a best way to soothe nervous travelers? Is it just to let time pass?

Dr. Tarlow: There are a number of formulas that are used. These may include: lower rates and special discounts, appeals to patriotism, (New York used this method with a good deal of success) , replacing lost leisure travel with groups. Another successful strategy is the development of Tourism Oriented Policing/Protection Units (TOPPs) that both calm fears and are educated in promoting tourism safety. Well-trained Police officers, and especially tourism police officers, can be a very reassuring and effective force and symbol especially after a terrorism attack.

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4. Should travelers worry about terrorism on their travels? What advice would you give anxious tourists heading to overseas destinations? 

Dr. Tarlow: Terrorism receives a great deal of publicity but its relative impact is much lower than, for example, car accidents.  I tell people that in the end we are all in God’s hands and if we allow terrorists to produce a culture of fear then we have handed the terrorists a victory that they do not deserve.  Travelers should always use common sense, but the total number of travelers killed by terrorists is relatively minor when we compare it to other forms of violence such as crime.

The best thing is to be careful, be mindful of one’s surroundings, trust your gut feelings and then refuse to hand the terrorists the victories that they so dearly crave.

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5. Do you have anything to add, promote or discuss? 

Dr. Tarlow: It is essential to realize that most tourist destinations are safe.  Travel operators and travel locations have a moral duty to try to insure the public’s safety, to do their due-diligence, and be as transparent as possible.  The travel industry must face the threat of terrorism but not allow terrorism to produce panic. Instead we need to be vigilante and produce well-trained TOPPs professionals who care and understand that to save a life is to save an entire world.

The travel and tourism industries are too important, and their economic and social impact are too great, to allow terrorists to divide us. Instead we need to work together to produce the safest tourism experiences possible.

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Dr. Peter E. Tarlow is a world-renowned speaker and expert specializing in such areas as: the impact of crime and terrorism on the tourism industry, event and tourism risk management, and economic development.

Tarlow earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Texas A&M University. He also holds degrees in history, in Spanish and Hebrew literatures, and in psychotherapy. Since 1990, Tarlow has been teaching courses on tourism, crime & terrorism to police forces and security and tourism professionals throughout the world.

If you would like to contact Dr. Tarlow — or receive his monthly free newsletter “Tourism Tidbits” — please visit his website TourismAndMore.com.

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