How Does Terrorism Impact Destination Choice?

08/09/2017 By Jon Young

On the evening of Friday 13th November 2015, Paris became the centre of an atrocity, as innocent revellers were shot down by terrorists. Most people watched the events unfold on social media or on TV but for me it was quite different.  I was in the centre of Paris, in the wide open spaces at the Eiffel Tower.

I’ve always been safety conscious when it comes to choosing a holiday destination, but usually I put these thoughts to the back of my mind.  Booking a trip to Paris was no exception but I told myself, Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, what could go wrong?  But having been caught in the middle of those events, I vowed never to return.

Of course my case is pretty unique, so how have these events impacted the rest of the nation?  Holiday Trends 2017 confirms that tragic world events like these have certainly influenced many when it comes to choosing holiday destinations. Safety is a strong consideration for 2 in 5 of us, and the 3rd most important factor when short-listing holiday destinations.  According to Holiday Trends 2017, Paris is now perceived as one of the least safe cities to visit, only 37% of people regarding it as safe (compared to 72% who regard Edinburgh as safe).  Cheaper deals can help overcome safety concerns, but of those who regard Paris as unsafe, 36% would not go regardless of price.  Istanbul is regarded the least safe out of the cities we tested, and trips to Turkey continue to decline.  Our research was conducted before the London attacks, so it’s unlikely Britain’s capital has retained its third place rating.  A drop in visits to central London attractions certainly suggest there has been some impact, but this is expected to be offset by strong international bookings, after the fall in sterling.

Positively our research suggests that once past the ‘short-listing’ stage, safety concerns are one of the least important factors. Once people are reassured about a destination, safety begins to fade to the back of their minds. These findings are supported by previous research by Marlow (2000), who found that while many are concerned about safety when deciding on a holiday destination, few worried about crime or disorder when they actually went on holiday.

The recent activity of tour operators suggests safety concerns have a limited shelf-life.  Thomas Cook recently announced they will resume holidays to Tunisia in February 2018. TUI look set to follow suit, with their CEO, Friedrich Joussen, arguing that terrorism is becoming normalised.  He is also optimistic for the future, stating “for next summer we see very resilient booking patterns. It’s very early days but it looks promising”. 18 months on and I am planning a trip back to Paris.

But regardless of normalising, our research suggests destinations and attractions still need to reassure visitors of their safety before a visit.   From our research we suggest the following:

  • Research your visitors to see if they have safety concerns about your destination. If there is concern, ensure that these are overcome at the short-listing stage. Short-listing tends to be done throughout the year, when people are dreaming (rather than proactively looking) for a destination. Inspiring social media posts that suggest safety are one way of feeding this need.  Some further suggestions on how to convey safety can be found in my blog here. If ‘overcoming’ is difficult – as is the case with Turkey – reduced price options may help.
  • According to Holiday Trends 2017, beyond the short-listing stage, safety is much less of a concern, so less onus should be put on it in communications further down the line. Final decision-making tends to be driven by ‘things to do’ and ‘places to see’ – a focus on safety will not deliver this. So attention should be given to the inspiring opportunities your destination offers.
  • Recommendation was the greatest influencer of holiday choice of over half of Britons surveyed. Destinations can take advantage of this by encouraging people to share positive experiences of their holidays on social media. This social proof will provide a guarantee of safety as well as some inspiring ideas.

More insights will be revealed in Holiday Trends 2018.