Last updated: 04:36 PM ET, Wed December 02 2015

Lesson from Madrid: Europe's Tourism Industry Will Get Back to Normal

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | December 01, 2015

Lesson from Madrid: Europe's Tourism Industry Will Get Back to Normal

PHOTO: Three years ater a 2004 terrorist attack in Madrid killed 191 people, Spanish tourism had rebounded to the point it was the second-most visited country in Europe. (TravelPulse file photo)

The terrorist attacks in Paris last month sent shock waves throughout the world. In the wake of the mass shootings, travel-related industries have suffered a significant slowdown. European airline stocks are down, there have been reports of mass hotel reservation cancellations in Brussels and Paris, and estimates are saying that Paris has lost $2 billion in tourism revenue since the attacks. On the street, most Parisians are saying that there are noticeably fewer tourists.  

In the same breath, some media outlets are reporting that tourists are back on the streets of Paris and other European countries are looking forward to record numbers of arrivals in 2016. The main thing that you can really take away from all the post-attack coverage is that no one is quite sure how things will play out over the coming months. 

Looking into the past for a precedent 

Unfortunately, this was not the first terrorist attack in recent times. Nor was it the first attack on a major European capital. In 2004, Madrid’s train system was bombed and 191 people were killed. To this day, it remains one of the worst terror attacks ever to occur on European soil. 

The bombings, which involved four trains heading to Madrid’s central Atocha Station, were blamed on Al Qaeda, though no link was ever proven. The initial suspicion was that the attack was actually carried out by Basque separatists. This theory was dropped after a couple of days. 

With short term uncertainty, it pays to think long term

Like in Paris, there were plenty of questions in Madrid, with people asking if the attacks could have been stopped with better police work and accusing various groups of using the attacks to advance their political agenda. Tourism dropped off in the short term and financial markets tumbled. 

Fast forward to 2007, just three years after the attacks. That year, Spain became the second-most visited country on earth (after France) with almost 60 million foreign arrivals. International arrivals remained in the 50-60 million range during subsequent years. This year, the World Economic Forum put Spain first on its rankings for the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report. The report measures things like policy, infrastructure, number and accessibility of attractions and business investing environment. 

France’s chance to rebound is coming soon

The point is that Spain’s tourism industry did recover from the bombings in the mid and long term. Obviously, there are different variables at play in 2015, but there is a precedent that shows that it is not unreasonable for countries, companies and airlines to stick to their long-term goals and projections even when short-term events have caused uncertainty. 

France has already passed a major benchmark, hosting the current climate change forum. Next year’s Euro soccer tournament will be a huge chance to get things back to normal by putting people’s minds back on leisure instead of danger.  

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