Is it safe to travel to Europe? Or anywhere? Faced with terrorism, crime, natural disasters and disease, some of us are no longer prepared to put up with the risks of overseas travel.
Paris is a prime example. The City of Light reported a million fewer visitors in the first half of 2016, compared with the first half of 2015, after the terrorist attacks last November that left 130 people dead, according to the French capital region’s tourism committee. Flooding around Paris in June and the headline-making robbery of Kim Kardashian in the city’s Hôtel de Pourtalès in October can’t have helped. Bookings on the national airline, Air France-KLM , were down 7.9 per cent year on year in July 2016, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). There were significant drops in visitors to France from China, Japan and the United States.
France is not alone; visitor numbers to Egypt, Belgium, Turkey and Tunisia also fell in the wake of terrorist attacks in those countries. Travellers from Asia in particular appear to have become wary of travelling to Europe. IATA reports that flights from Asia to Europe saw the slowest expansion of any travel sector in July 2016, with Asian travellers choosing to visit Australia or North America or travel within Asia instead.
Are we overreacting? In terms of terrorism, 2014 was the most deadly year on record, according to the Global Terrorism Index, with 32,658 deaths, a figure that in 2015 fell slightly to 28,328.
“We all experience a visceral reaction to scenes of carnage and destruction,” says Phil Sylvester, resident travel expert at Australia-based Travel Insurance Direct. “The human body is built to react in a physical way to scenes of horror, and these feelings are much more powerful than reason.” He thinks travellers are feeling nervous because they’ve seen awful events unfold in destinations they can imagine themselves being in, or perhaps in places they’ve visited before, or plan to one day.
While the chances of being caught up in a terrorist event are slim, there’s no doubt that incidents in locations formerly considered safe have contributed to a perception that threats to travellers are becoming both more common and unpredictable.
“Risks are no longer confined to the unpredictable in unfamiliar environments, and incidents can and do rapidly develop even in locations formerly considered safe,” says Charles Andrews, co-founder and CEO of security surveillance group DS-48, which runs a radical “bespoke safety concierge” service called Overwatch. Load its app on your phone and Special Forces will swoop in by helicopter and whisk you to safety, wherever you are in the world. Although the service is focused on prevention, Overwatch tracks each traveller’s movements every three minutes to make sure they’re out of harm’s way.
“Sadly, I think it has become normal to get nervous when you’re travelling with your family, for work or alone,” says Andrews. “The world we grew up in has changed and preventive security services are no longer an option to keep your family and yourself safe.”
Run by ex-British military personnel (Andrews himself was in the Scots Guards), DS-48 charges a subscription fee of £60 (HK$570) a month per person or £240 per month for a family of four. The OverWatch app does require 3G, GPRS, Wi-fi or a satellite connection to work, but tracking bracelets are available for those travelling in remote areas.
Bespoke security will not be for everyone. The answer to unpredictable turmoil in the world isn’t to stop travelling, but to pick wisely and take informed precautions.
For some, that means travelling to less high-profile destinations. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, the cruise industry in Asia is growing at 24 per cent per year, with the most visited destination being in 2016 being Jeju Island off South Korea. “We’ve noticed that travel to remote resorts is on the increase,” says Amadeo Zarzosa, vice-president, resorts at IHG, Asia Middle East and Africa. “Guests are always looking for experiences in exceptional locations, whether it be on an island or on a mountain where wilderness and luxury fused in a harmonious manner.”
IHG’s InterContinental brand has remote resorts in French Polynesia, Koh Samui, Thailand, and Danang in Vietnam. The latter has one small road that leads in and out of a largely undeveloped peninsula, a security feature that encouraged the organisers of Summit 2017, the 29th meeting of leaders of the Apec bloc in 2017, to choose it as their venue.
Despite the Global Peace Index’s claim that the world has been a more dangerous place since 2008, this is no time for putting away your passport.
“The world may be more dangerous than ever, but the figures need some perspective,” says Sylvester. He points out that 1.25 million people are killed every year in road accidents, “yet people continue to travel to and drive in countries with appalling road safety records”. For example, India has one of the worst road safety records of all, with 140,000 recorded deaths last year alone. However, is a tourist trip through Delhi, Mumbai or Calcutta complete without at least one seat-of-your-pants ride in an auto-rickshaw? Absolutely not, and besides, death by lightning – or even death by obesity – is far more likely than death from terrorism.
The fact that it’s harder to predict a destination will be safe may make some travellers nervous, but tourism is one of the world’s fastest growing industries. Plane maker Airbus predicts air traffic will grow at 4.5 per cent annually between 2016 and 2035. According to data from the UN World Tourism Organisation, more than 1.2 billion people made an international trip in 2015, a figure research by credit card provider Visa suggests will increase by 50 per cent to more than 1.8 billion over the next decade.
Terrorism may get the headlines, but ultimately it’s tourism that’s easily winning the war.
10 remote places for a super-safe holiday
1 Faroe Islands
The 50,000 people on these 18 islands in the North Atlantic are outnumbered by seabirds and sheep (the name means ‘Sheep Islands’ in Danish).
Only 23 million people live in Australia – mostly on the coast – which at three people per square kilometre has the lowest population density outside of Mongolia.
More than 1,000 coral islands and 26 atolls make-up this tropical country in the Indian Ocean. Home to 345,000 people as well as many reefs, lagoons and beaches, the Maldives also hosts over 100 resorts.
This is the world’s empty quarter. For those wanting to get away from it all, try horse trekking in the country’s remote Zavkhan province.
Here at the southernmost place on earth, visitors to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station are surrounded by 14 million square kilometres of emptiness.
6 Easter Island
The 900 marvellous moai statues are the reason to visit this remote Polynesian outpost of Chile, which is home to just 5,800 residents.
This tiny and peaceful Himalayan kingdom of 750,000 people allows only 150,000 tourists in each year to visit its sacred temples.
An area growing in popularity with tourists who like secluded luxury resorts, the largest island in French Polynesia has a population of just 78,000.
9 San Marino
This medieval microstate of barely 31,000 people is fenced in by Italy on all sides, with cobblestone streets and an old walled town.
The most politically stable country in South America, Chile’s high-altitude Atacama Desert hosts the world’s biggest telescopes to examine the universe.