Terrorism: the 'new normal' for today's traveller

I've been to Nice. Paris and Brussels, too. Chances are you probably have as well. A bomb goes off in Baghdad, killing hundreds, as was the case the other day, and it hardly hits the homepage.

But, as a nation of prodigious travellers, nearly all of us can immediately identify with the classic destinations - Nice and the enchanted south of France included - from our own travels when they are suddenly and brutally besieged.

International travel, a pursuit that millions of Australians nowadays cherish, is again reeling from another attack on France, one of the superpowers of global tourism. Travel was never meant to be this way and nor was France.

It's no secret that tourists are staying away in significant numbers from France - and for that matter Europe as a whole.

Even before the recent attack on Istanbul Airport - now superseded by yet more carnage that seems to emerge on a near-weekly basis - visitor numbers to Turkey, where tourism is a major contributor to the nation's economy, had already declined to close to 50 per cent.

This followed a series of terrorism incidents that included the murder of several German tourists outside the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

But it's not merely safety and security that's important in influencing travel decisions as many travellers, perhaps hardened by the "new normal" delivered by terrorists in respect to the propensity of incidents and attacks, are clearly better able to rationalise the risk.

Even with the recent wave of terrorist attacks, the chance of being caught up in one still remains extremely low. Yet, really, who wants to be sitting in an otherwise charming restaurant in Paris and have heavily armed soldiers in camouflage drift past the window, as I experienced in Paris when I was there earlier this year?

Those troops provided me and others with a reassuring presence - and yes, I would still visit Europe - but for many it's no longer quite the stuff of a magical holiday. The most profound challenge for destinations that are subject to terrorist attacks is that the world truly is the oyster of the modern traveller. Never in history has there been a greater choice of destinations at a more affordable price.


Immediately after last November's horrific terrorist attack in Paris, American tourists were reported to have cancelled their holiday plans there en masse; travel agents and tour operators transferring their bookings to Budapest, a city perceived to be safer for US citizens.

Indeed, earlier this year, it was reported that the occupancy rates at Parisian hotels had plummeted, though anecdotally, Australians are said to be one of the more resilient national groups in terms of visitations to the French capital.

Crucially, however, occupancy rates among the more and much sought-after Chinese market had fallen 20 per cent in the first quarter of this year - worse among Japanese and Russians. Add to that the French propensity for strikes and civil unrest and the outlook is a less than encouraging one for the natural home of tourism.

So what conclusion can Australian travellers draw from this grisly cavalcade of murder and mayhem? The picture is confused, fluid and, yes, frightening. Exactly as the terrorists want it. The best and perhaps only response is defiance. And that means we must all try to keep travelling regardless.

Anthony Dennis is Fairfax Media's national travel editor.