There is terrorism in Europe – should I turn around and come back home?


It’s just after 11pm and I’m sitting at the Cathay Pacific Lounge at the Hong Kong airport, waiting for my quarter-past-midnight flight to Amsterdam, and reflecting whether I should turn around and come back to Brisbane. There is still time. The reason for the second thoughts? The article in the UK’s “Express” titled “Terror attacks ‘redrawing travel map’ as millions of tourists shun Turkey and France”, which reads in part:

Areas of France and Turkey have seen a dramatic drop in the number of families flocking to their sandy beaches and vibrant cities.

Travel insiders have said terrorism has “redrawn the map” for tourists – diverting them away from the most popular destinations and forcing them over to Southern Europe.

Businesses in Spain, Portugal and Italy are seeing an uptake in the amount of tourist generated economy after being seen as “safer” for visitors.

Terror attacks have badly affected France with massacres frightening would-be travellers all over the globe.

According to the latest figures, tourist visits in Istanbul are expected to be down by 52 per cent between now and the rest of the year and to France by 20 per cent. On the other hand, Great Britain and Spain, free from terrorist attacks so far this year, are leading in the projected increase of visitors by 19 per cent.

I have no plans to go to Turkey to experience the Islamist counter-coup first hand, but Paris, on the other hand….

Should we worry, and more importantly, adjust our travel plans accordingly? How rational and reasonable is it not to go to Istanbul or to France in light of the recent terrorist attacks?

The short answer is: not very. We are not talking about war zones like Syria or parts of Iraq and Libya; these are generally peaceful countries, which occasionally suffer from terrorist attacks, most of them low casualty ones.

But then again, terrorism relies on us not being rational. More important than the amount of death, injury and damage any particular terrorist attack will cause is its psychological impact. They don’t call terrorism the propaganda of the deed for nothing. The fear generated by a seemingly random and certainly unexpected act of violence is always far in excess of its physical impact, though clearly the greater the physical impact the proportionally greater the fear generated (compare a single knife attack with September 11).

In reality, terrorist attacks tend to be few and result in few casualties. Your odds of dying or being wounded in a terrorist attack are almost astronomical. In reality, when you travel you are far more likely to die in an ordinary car accident, but no one cancels their Italian holidays just because the Italians drive like crazy. And, of course, you are even likelier to die if you choose to stay at home instead of travelling, be it again in a car accident, or a household accident, or from any number of very ordinary but generally not particularly scary causes.

Secondly, in terrorism lightning very rarely, if ever, strikes twice. This is partly because there is an almost infinite number of potential locations and potential targets, particularly if the theatre of conflict is as large as a whole continent. But perhaps more importantly, it is also because terrorism is an example of opportunistic violence that thrives in particular on lax security. The localities that have suffered an attack are generally once bitten twice shy and invariably heighten the security in the aftermath, making subsequent attacks less likely to succeed. From that point of view it makes more sense to actually travel to France and to Paris and Nice in particular.

It’s now 11:42pm and I’m expecting the boarding call to come on very soon. Stay tuned for The Daily Chrenk coming to you (a)live from Europe.