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by Dr. Peter Tarlow

The multiple recent terrorist attacks in diverse places such as London, England; Istanbul, Turkey; San Bernardino, California; Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, and Tel Aviv, Israel along with the major tourism threats in places such as Ankara, Brussels and Munich and New York, ought to be a warning to the tourism industry that it is entering into a new and dangerous age.  In the past, most tourism centers assumed that either they would not be targets of a terrorism attack or that the attack would be against a highly specific and well-known target.  Classically it was assumed that we could almost predict which areas would be most prone to terrorism attacks.  The prevailing paradigm argued that terrorists were most likely to strike locations that were high on the following scales:

  • They were centers where a great deal of economic damage would occur.
  • They were centers could generate mass casualties
  • They were places that had some form of iconic significance
  • They were places that were most likely to be covered by the media.

Scholars and security specialists based this paradigm on attacks such as those in New York, London, and Madrid.  The security and tourism industries however did not consider locations such as in the Middle East as being relevant to tourism.  Both the multiple incidents in Europe and the United States creates enough anomalies to cause tourism scholars and practitioners to question if the former paradigm does not need revisions and updating.  Tourism Tidbits presents this month some of the new realities that tourism professionals need to consider.  Among these are:

-Tourism is often a magnet for terrorists.  Not only does tourism provide many “weak targets: but tourism values are the antithesis of terrorists’ values. Furthermore the tourism industry is to large and diverse that it provides multiple targets for those seeking to create economic chaos.

- The fear factor combined with terrorism’s unpredictability, may well impact world tourism and the world’s economy.  Terrorists to do not need to carry out a successful attack, they merely need to create a sense of fear. Although business people will continue to travel, the leisure passenger may well pull back.  People well may become afraid not only to travel to major tourism centers such as London and Paris, but also to less famous or popular destinations.

Despite the publicity and the media, statistically terrorism still strikes relatively few people and even fewer tourists.  The death of anyone is tragic, but a visitor is more likely to die from a road accident of a safety hazard then from an act of terrorism.  On the other hand, it is rare for the media to spend a great deal of time on road accidents. Tourism centers need to develop good media plans and have them in reserve so that if an incident should occur they are not developing a plan at the last minute.

Attacks against non-tourist specific locations still act as passive attacks on tourism.  Terrorism is based on fear and the greater the public fears being away from home, the more precarious is the tourism industry’s situation.  Terrorists do not need to target a tourism industry actively to do it damage, a passive attack or a failed, but publicized attack is still a success from the terrorists’ perspective.

Terrorism is no longer confined to major tourism centers.  The California terrorism incident demonstrates that terrorism can occur in what may have previously been considered unlikely locales.  This means that areas that were considered “safe” need to also develop counter terrorism plans.

Due to high levels of publicity a terrorist attack in any one location raises traveler anxiety levels around the world.  Due to the fact that terrorism is now a worldwide phenomena, an attack in any one location means that visitors are not only increasingly fearful but that these attacks may cause people to cease to travel or to travel less, thus impacting the entire industry.

Think of unlikely scenarios.  Terrorists do not only need to use deadly force, they can create a tourism crisis by means of cyber attacks, social media or simply creating rumors that create fear within the traveling public.  In today’s media interconnected world news spreads at extremely rapid speeds and can cause fear and cancellations not only at a particular locale but across the globe.

Here are a few things that tourism professionals can do to be prepared.

Tourism professionals need to obtain their news from various sources. Terrorism breeds confusion especially in smaller locales. It is essential that the tourism professional have a wide gamut of information and that he or she does not allow personal political feelings to mix with hard news and facts.  Terrorists want the tourism industry professionals to become politicized, and thus it is easer for them to destroy the tourism industry.

Have a tourism-terrorism task force in place. This task force should include not only tourism savvy members of law enforcement, but also medical personnel, media specialists, hoteliers and restaurateurs, transportation specialists and professionals, and community political leadership.  It is essential that there be collegial trust between the teem members.  The better your ability to work with each other the better a crisis can be handled or adverted.

Create new ways for people to provide insights and information without appearing to be bigoted.  The last few years have shown tourism centers to be not only culturally sensitive but also places that stress cultural sensitivity.  Tourism is the antithesis of xenophobia and the industry strives to judge each person as an individual and not by his or her ethnicity, race, or religion.  This sense of tolerance, however, has caused many people to fear informing law enforcement of questionable actions by a particular individual, out of a mistaken belief that acting on the motto: “see something/say something” may make the individual seem intolerant or bigoted.  It behooves the tourism industry to help people understand that it may be better to be overcautious than overly sensitive.

Invest in law enforcement and private security professionals.  In too many locations police are over worked, under trained and under paid.  The 19th century concept of law enforcement being all muscle and few brains is no longer valid. Today we need men and women who are professionals, highly educated and specialists.  All too often a raise in rank means a change in position and the loss of a great deal of training and knowledge.  Tourism communities without specifically trained TOPPs (Tourism Oriented Police and Protection Units) are putting their industry at risk. The same is also true of private security professionals and it is essential that members of both groups both know and respect each other.

About Dr. Peter Tarlow

Dr. Peter E. Tarlow is the President of T&M, a founder of the Texas chapter of TTRA and a popular author and speaker on tourism. Tarlow is a specialist in the areas of sociology of tourism, economic development, tourism safety and security. Tarlow speaks at governors' and state conferences on tourism and conducts seminars throughout the world and for numerous agencies and universities.

Contact: Dr. Peter Tarlow

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