|Photo by Freeimages.com/Vince Varga|
Several months on from the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, how is Europe’s tourism sector faring in the face of terrorism? A recent study by Allianz Global Assistance points to continued resilience in travel to the area, but further research complicates the picture.
According to the Allianz study, which drew from more than 500,000 bookings from the U.S. to top European airports purchased from January to April in 2015 and 2016, for travel dates between Memorial Day and Labor Day, travel to Europe overall remains strong, recording an overall 9.3 percent increase in summer travel for 2016 over 2015. Certain cities that have experienced attacks, however, recorded sharp drops, especially Istanbul (down 43.7 percent) and Brussels (down 30.4 percent). Other cities recorded strong increases, including Dublin and Shannon, Ireland, (up 42.8 and 46.5 percent, respectively), Athens, Greece (up 42.7 percent), Lisbon, Portugal (up 42.3 percent) and Amsterdam, the Netherlands (up 34.5 percent).
“People still want to go to Europe, but they’re seeking those destinations that they think will be safe,” Daniel Durazo, director of communications for Allianz Global Assistance USA, tells Travel Agent. “People are shying away from the destinations where they feel there’s a higher level of danger, and seeking destinations that are perceived to be safer.”
Paris seems to be the exception to this rule. According to the Allianz study, summer travel to Paris remains flat this year versus 2015 (up 0.6 percent), a fact Durazo attributes to the city’s iconic status in the imaginations of travelers.
“Paris will always be paris, and people will always want to go there,” says Durazo. “I think that, regardless of the safety situation in Europe, Paris will always be a very popular destination. The fact that travel to Paris right now is flat points to people’s interest being a bit tempered because of what occurred earlier, but it’s still strong.”
Data from the not-yet-released American Express Spending & Savings Tracker, a monthly survey monitoring consumer intentions on a variety of topics, provided to Travel Agent points to similar trends. The data is drawn from the May report, which focuses on summer travel and which will be released in full later this month.
“It’s still early in the summer travel season, but we’re already seeing a 7 percent increase in international travel bookings, with quintessential European city destinations such as London, Rome and Paris, topping the list,” says Claire Bennett, EVP of American Express Travel. “We’re also seeing several less traditional European cities trend upwards, as travelers discover destinations like Milan, Prague, and Reykjavik, Iceland.”
Additionally, nearly 80 percent of the general population won’t be changing their summer vacation destination plans due to current world events, according to Amex.
Other surveys over the past few months also point to some resilience in Europe travel. In a Travel Leaders report conducted in April, 17.1 percent of respondents had upcoming travel plans to Europe. Of those that did not, “concerns over safety” ranked third in terms of reasons not to go (25.5 percent), behind “Big vacation already taken or planned for 2016” (48.5 percent) and “Expenses” (31.2 percent). In Virtuoso’s April list of top summer destinations, which is based on agent bookings, eight of the top 10 destinations were European: Italy, Ireland, the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Greece, and the Netherlands.
Cruise Versus Land
Other data collected by Travel Agent, however, complicates the picture, especially when it comes to cruise bookings. In a recent survey conducted by cruise editor Susan J. Young, more than 54 percent of travel agents and agency owners reported that their European cruise bookings were “off” this year. Only 13 percent said that their European cruise bookings had increased, and 32 percent said they were similar to last year. Other regions, including the Caribbean and Alaska, reported stronger sales.
Comparisons with other studies are difficult to make due to the way in which the data is collected. Allianz’s study, for instance, relies on reported air bookings, and therefore cannot distinguish between travelers headed for a land tour and those looking to take a cruise. American Express’ and Travel Leaders’ data relies on consumers reporting their own intentions, and Virtuoso’s list does not distinguish between cruise and land bookings.
Beyond this summer, Europe travel will continue to depend on any other incidents that may happen, says Durazo. “I think people are going to continue to shy away from destinations with terrorism incidents toward places that are safer.”
Officials are continuing to investigate the cause of the crash of Egyptair flight 804, which flew out of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport. According to an update posted May 23 by Bloomberg, new reports of smoke in the cockpit of the aircraft before its disappearance from radar raise new questions about the accident.
“It’s too long for an explosion and too short for a traditional fire,” former A320 pilot and safety consultant John Cox tells Bloomberg. “It says we have more questions than we have answers.”
While it remains too early to understand the cause of the crash, if it is determined to be caused by terrorism, the impact will depend on the details.
“We will have to wait until we know the actual cause,” says John Rose, COO of travel risk management company iJet International. “If it was terrorism, was it the Muslim Brotherhood targeting Egypt? If it was ISIS, were they targeting France? I think, depending on which one it is, will influence the impact.”
No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the crash, according to Bloomberg.
If the cause of the crash does prove to be terrorism, Rose says, having so many attacks in such a short period of time — from last year’s bombing of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula through the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels — could start to influence how consumers purchase travel. “Most people in this generation have not experienced so many attacks in such a short period of time,” Rose says. “Of course, we had 9/11, which was horrible, but there was not much after that.”
Durazo, however, predicts that, if the crash is a terrorist attack, the outcome will follow the same trends already observed in the Allianz study.
“People will still go to Europe, but will seek safe destinations,” Durazo says.
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