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The Effect of Terrorism on Tourist Behaviour and the Role the Media has to Play

The Effect of Terrorism on Tourist Behaviour and the Role the Media has to Play
Author: Rhian Fletcher
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How does terrorism affect tourism and what part does the media play in fuelling terrorism?
Furthermore, why are tourism destinations targeted by terrorists and do different types of terrorist attacks have greater or less impact on tourism? These are the questions that are addressed in this paper.

Margaret Thatcher, when Prime Minister, called the media the 'oxygen' of terrorism, terrorists focus on societies where publicity is not controlled by the government and where their attack will be mediated around the world. Western societies are therefore targeted, where abhorrent attacks and fear is publicised with no overruling power held by bureaucracies - helping the terrorists to achieve their goals of bringing down governments, creating massive shock waves through capitalist societies and drawing attention to their causes and beliefs.

There appears to be a mutual relationship between the media and terrorism in that they both rely on each other to achieve their goals; terrorists want world-wide publicity and the media want increased viewer ratings. Hostage situations are a prime example of how this strategy works.

Terrorists are becoming increasingly better known, feared by the public and admired by associates- Osama Bin Laden became a global figure due to media publicity, appearing on our screens as prominently and as regularly as legitimate global leaders.

The ability of terrorists to tactically plan their attacks has lead to tourist destinations being one of their prime targets; Consequently, Pizam and Fleischer (2002) found that terrorism and tourism have become inextricably linked. An attack on a destination with international tourists increases the publicity as more nationalities are involved. The effect that an attack creates, the fear and terror that is produced through the media reports and the result this has on tourism income rates is mega and can severely damage economies. This tactic is perfect for terrorists whose aim is to weaken governments.

Tourism is now one of the largest industries in the world with many countries relying on it as their major, if not main source of GDP. The importance of traveller safety and the destinations image of safety and security makes the tourism industry highly vulnerable and volatile. Consequently, the insecurity that tourists feel just by leaving their country is unwontedly magnified when a terrorist attack occurs and the overindulgence of media attention creates world-wide fear. However, would there be a difference in tourism demand if the terrorists were targeting their host population or tourists specifically?

Research shows that whilst the tourist destination will suffer more if tourists feel they are being specifically targeted, it is not the target of the attacks that affects destinations' ability to recover, but the frequency of the attack.

There is a marked difference between how long the aftermath of an attack lasts depending on what type of terrorist attack has occurred.

The more frequent the attacks, the larger impact it will have on tourism and therefore the economy, whereas one-off attacks will have a relatively short term impact on the destination. The 'troubles' in Northern Ireland which lasted almost thirty years took the tourism industry almost ten years to recover. Comparatively, a one-off attack such as the Luxor Massacre that killed sixty two people had no long term damage on the tourism industry. Generally, frequent attacks are carried out by terrorists on their own country and their own people, creating 'local' media coverage with the aim of destabilizing the government. One off-attack's that are generally targeting western societies as a whole, aim to create world-wide media coverage.

It is said that the impact of terrorism on tourism can occur up to three months post terrorist attack and can last for up to six to nine months. However, this only appears to relate to one-off attacks. The ability of the country to re-vamp its image by increasing security and essentially making tourists feel safe again, has a large effect on the speed of recovery of a tourist destination. Overcoming negative media attention is vital and can be successful if the correct marketing campaigns are in place. The Madrid train bombings are a very good example of a swift restoration that lead to an increase in tourism, however, the Bahli bombings found it extremely difficult to get past the negative media attention.

Terrorism has severe consequences on a tourist destination. Depending on the type of attack and the destinations response, the effects will be either relatively short term or last for years. The media appear to play a huge role in amplifying the negativity brought about by an attack- producing more fear and further reducing tourism rates by damaging a destinations image of safety. In essence, the media are therefore helping terrorists achieve their goals.
Tarlow, P.E. (2011). Tourism Risk Management in an Age of Terrorism. Economia Autonoma, IV(7), pp. 1-13.

Pizam, A., and Fleischer, A. (2002). Severity versus Frequency of Acts of Terrorism: Which Has a Larger Impact on Tourism Demand? Journal of Travel Research, 40(3), pp. 337-339.

Weimann, G. (2008). The Psychology of Mass-Mediated Terrorism. American Behavioural Scientist, 52(1), pp. 69-86.