PHOTO: The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. (photo via Flickr/Gary Ullah)
After a gunman opened fire near the Champs-élysées Thursday, tour operators were forced to yet again take stock of a volatile geopolitical situation, bracing themselves for the fallout and the effect on business.
And yet? Nothing really changed.
Could it be that American travelers are experiencing event fatigue? With so many incidents of major concern taking place on a seemingly daily basis, it seems that a single terrorist attack no longer has the power to arouse much of a reaction.
“So far, no impact in France or even in Egypt with the recent Palm Sunday bombing,” said Bob Drumm, president of Alexander + Roberts. “Even our next departures to Iran are nearly sold out for the fall. Our first trip in March was a big hit with travelers.”
Drumm suspects that those who refrain from international travel because they are fearful of terrorism may have already opted out and are no longer a factor in cancellations after an incident.
“Those left are a pretty intrepid and committed group,” he said.
Tour operators have reported that demand for travel to Europe has rebounded robustly from a slump following a series of attacks during 2015 and 2016 in France, Belgium and Germany.
"On studentuniverse.com, bookings remained flat week over week in the week after the November 13, 2015, attack on Paris," said StudentUniverse Public Relations Manager Danielle Dougan.
"And bookings to Paris were up 27% month over month in the month after the incident. In many cases, we actually see bookings increase to impacted areas in the week and month after the incident, while in other cases, bookings may be affected in the week after the incident, but rebound and end up up month over month."
"I had clients in Paris, who were just getting back to their hotel for their last night in Paris when the November 13, 2015, attacks occurred," said Vera Adams of Ruth Young Travel Service.
"They could literally see the nightclub from the window of their hotel. It was a very tense and scary situation, and not being the 'worldly traveler,' (first time abroad) I was very worried how they would react. Monograms grasped the situation beautifully, and even though the city went on lockdown, they were able to get our clients to the airport the next morning so they could make their flight home.
"They were hounded by local media for a 'story' but refused. When they came in to talk to me about their trip, they told me they would go back in a heartbeat. To be that close to terrorism, and it not affect their desire to travel and explore the world is amazing."
Most tour operators have reported notable gains in 2017 and have been looking forward to a strong year—always with the caveat, “if nothing happens.” And that phrase almost catches in the throat because, for tour operators, something always does happen.
However, it seems that dedicated travelers are no longer dissuaded from travel by incidents of terrorism.
It is not that they expect terrorism to end or for terrorists to be stopped by any action meant to curtail their activities. It is rather that they accept terrorism as a fact of life—not predictable on an individual basis, but in a general sense a statistical certainty.
So they take steps to secure themselves and then proceed with their lives.
“People can’t just go to their basement and stay there because there have been some bombings and killings,” said George Taylor, the vice president of global operations of iJet International, a globally integrated risk management company.
“I’m not trying to trivialize it, but I’m saying people are still going to do things.”
"Knowing what insurance policies each client has (i.e. do they have to cancel for any reason, etc.) and what the wholesalers and vendors are doing in case a client wants to move a trip to another destination or date [is key]", said Samarah Meil of Amarilo Travel Network.
"Unfortunately, events like this are becoming so common that I feel that unless someone is going very soon, most people are not as worried – so there is good and bad with that. It is sad it has become almost normal to hearing about events like this. I do applaud those who will not let fear rule them. There is a fine balance of providing facts and info without ever making a client feel pressured to do anything they are not comfortable with.
"We always encourage our clients to enroll in the federal Smart Traveler Enrollment Program."
For tour operators, it is part of their business plan to provide security and convenience for their customers while traveling. They have solidly established tourism infrastructures at the destinations they work in, and people who know the places intimately. Those who live in a place and are familiar with it are much more likely to sense it when something changes, when something is “off.”
Tour operators have built their destination management infrastructures over periods of years and are well-equipped to take action to avoid danger, moving their clients to safety when problems emerge.
“Our office in Paris is closely monitoring developments,” said Pamela Lassers, director of media relations for Abercrombie & Kent.
“But we have not yet received calls from travel advisors or guests regarding the attack. One of the reasons they choose Abercrombie & Kent is the reassurance provided by our offices across Europe, staffed 24/7 to respond to any unexpected developments with a focus on client safety and security.”
Special thanks to Lisa Iannucci for contributing to this story.