Last updated: 12:06 PM ET, Fri March 25 2016

Tour Operators Keeping Close Watch After Brussels Attacks

Tour Operator | David Cogswell | March 22, 2016

Tour Operators Keeping Close Watch After Brussels Attacks

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The impact of this morning's terrorist attacks on Brussels is still being assessed, but already those in the travel industry are seeing how this awful tragedy can translate in bookings lost to fear.

While Americans still slept, innocent of sinister plans being carried out for a bombing at the Brussels International Airport in Zavantem and the Maelbeek metro station in Brussels, the Financial Times was reporting that Thomas Cook had issued a trading statement warning that “the uncertain geopolitical environment is causing some customers to postpone booking their holidays.”

Attacks in Paris and Istanbul had already caused noticeable stalling in the tour operator’s business. The company reported a 2 percent drop in bookings of summer holidays compared to the previous year.

After the Brussels attacks, Ryanair and easyJet reported drops in their stock prices of 4 percent. InterContinental Hotels, Thomas Cook and Tui also reported immediate blows to their stock prices.

The explosions began at 8 a.m. Brussels time, 3 a.m. New York time. The death toll quickly climbed to 34.

Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel tweeted a warning to “avoid all movement” and the New York Times referred to the state of the city as a “virtual lockdown.”  

The Times wrote that “The Paris attacks showed that the scale and sophistication of the Islamic State’s efforts to carry out operations in Europe were greater than first believed.” After the Brussels attack the specter of terrorism hangs even heavier over the tourism industry.

Tour operators in the U.S. have been watching the events and trends closely, having difficulty discerning what is happening.

“It is really hard to pinpoint the true reasons, but for us Europe is flat and the National Parks are up, especially Yellowstone, which is up 50 plus percent” said Dan Austin, president of Austin Adventures. “It could be all the attention the 100th anniversary is getting. But it very well could, and likely does, have at least something to do with the political and security climate around the world.”  

Tour operators can count on phones ringing today with calls from worried travelers.

“I can tell you we will be fielding calls of concern today from the attack in Brussels last night,” said Austin. “When they hit an airport or gateway, it’s tough to not have concerns. Right now all we can do is urge patience while the details surface.  We have of course loosened our policies for cancelation and or transferring to alternate trips. We all have to still encourage travel or they terrorist win.”

The first concern is of course to make sure their own clients are safe and to attend to whatever their needs may be. Afterward there will be time to make a larger assessment of the effect on business.

Globus released a statement: "While there were Cosmos travelers in the city at the time of the incident, we can confirm that all customers are safe and secure and departed Brussels today as scheduled. We are working closely with our representatives in the city to ensure the safety and well-being of future travelers, and therefore guests on any of our brands scheduled to travel within the next month (through April 22, 2016) on any cruise or tour that includes Brussels may rebook to any future 2016 departure date, or 2017 if their 2016 itinerary is not available."

Collette’s bookings to Europe had been picking up. Avanti said business for Europe was booming. But now a reassessment will be in order.

“Prior to mid-November when the [Paris] attacks occurred, Europe was on track to beat numbers from last year,” said Amelia Sugerman, Collette’s public relations manager. “We did experience a lag in bookings for about eight to 10 weeks following the attacks. We started to see numbers picking back up again in early February. With that being said, during that time, we saw a great deal of bookings to the United States and other areas. We are now starting to see those Europe numbers coming back (especially to Ireland, Iceland, Spain and London).”

Travelers today have become used to hearing about attacks that occur without warning in places that seem randomly chosen. It’s not something anyone can really prepare for or anticipate. Once it has happened, the time to protect yourself has already passed. So terrorist attacks do not set off a wave of cancellations as they once would have. But they do create an atmosphere of concern and anxiety that may spill over into future decisions about travel.

“As of today we have not received any cancellations on travel to Europe for travelers who have booked and paid for their trips,” said Gianni Miradoli, CEO of Central Holidays. “We have seen a slowdown in the booking process to Europe and these new events will certainly not help in prompting clients to book Europe in the near future.

“Regarding the current news, we  will continue to be attentive to the market as always and will have a better sense of the situation in the next few days as it relates to today's tragedy in Brussels.”

The tour operators remain optimistic.

"Despite the terrorist activity in France last year, tourism to Europe has remained strong," said Max Ali, director of operations for SITA World Tours. "While condemning the tragedy in Brussels today, we remain optimistic that travelers will not be deterred and give in to this menace. As of this moment SITA World Tours have had no cancellations and bookings have remained constant"


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