Destination resilience and the elephant in the room

The Destination Safety Report of 2017, commissioned by CELTH and ANVR recommended among other things, that whilst acknowledging the important role that security plays in destination choice the void between perceived security risk and security risk, in reality, is one that should be tackled with as much factual information as possible. However, this is not a simple matter. Reassurance around safety underpins positive selection of destinations, so how to provide security information whilst avoiding negativity? Tour operators know the actuality of risk is far lower than tourist perceptions but dispelling the myth remains the elephant in the room.

International Tourism Security Summit 2018

The ITSS (International Tourism Security Summit 2018) discussed this issue along with many others last week in Jerusalem. Other issues addressed were whether terror threat is growing or not, which countries are considered most dangerous and which least and critically what are the factors which provide “resilience” for a destination trying to recover from a security or other catastrophic event scenario.

Terrorism is now global - it can happen anywhere anytime

The terror threat has more recently undoubtedly become more of a global threat rather than something which only happens in certain troublesome areas of the world. It can and does happen in European capitals on the streets of London, Paris, Brussels. However, and I made this point to the conference in a Plenary session, this does mean to say that because there is a possibility that it will happen anywhere that the probability is, therefore, the same. It is not. The areas around the Middle East and parts of Africa or Afghanistan for example traditionally less stable areas, remain a higher risk in reality and are also perceived to be so by tourists.

How big is the gap between perception and reality when it comes to destination security?

Well, it is big! Its rather like the difference in perception of threat between a coconut and a shark. On the face of it, more people will be scared of the possibility of a shark attack than coconut attack. However, when you look at the figures many more injuries to tourists, some of them fatal, are caused by falling coconuts than by shark attacks. Some of the people will go swimming regardless, others’ destination choice may well be affected by areas famous for sharks. In the same, way the incidence of terror attack whilst seeming to be on the increase is actually not. In 2017, 34,000 people died due to terror attacks of whom 15,000 were terrorists themselves (IPK, 2017), but this figure is dwarfed by those who were murdered or died in traffic accidents. So whilst terrorism is seen as the biggest threat to life for the tourist, it is not in reality. This leaves a gap between perception and reality.

The threat related to destination choice

When outbound travellers were asked in February of this year “does recent instability and terror warnings have an effect on your destination choice” the results were that 37% said yes, with 67% saying no (IPK, 2018). Different nationalities have different levels of terror sensitive travellers, whereas Norway has the lowest percentage, only 20% of travellers being sensitive to terror as a factor.

How can destinations perceived as dangerous recover tourism flow

First, which are the areas perceived by outbound travellers as most dangerous at the present time? They are Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey (IPK, 2018). What is interesting is that even with relatively modest improvements in security image, recovery can be relatively fast. However, and this is the real point, recovery of tourism flow (with all the knock-on economic effects) will depend on a resilient strategy and key to that strategy is communications before, during and after security-related incidents. All those concerned in attracting and facilitating tourism, tour operators included, must be part of resilience for a destination.