Terror attack reactions

Germans stay calm and keep travelling

German tourists have shown remarkable calm in response to the spate of terrorist attacks around the world this year and generally prefer to switch destinations rather than abandon their holidays.

As Europe’s largest outbound travel market, Germany plays a vital role in the fortunes of many destinations. German tourists, for example, make up a large proportion of international visitors to Mediterranean destinations such as Spain, Greece and Turkey as well as to Egypt. So it’s not surprising that tourism officials, hoteliers, airlines and other travel companies pay close attention to how this vital source market responds to terror attacks, conflicts, catastrophes and other incidents that impact on destinations.

One thing is clear. German travellers tend not to panic and flee when something happens, although this obviously depends on the actual incident. For example, very few German visitors to Paris have cancelled their trips even though there is certainly still a major threat to the French capital after last Friday’s terrorist attacks. Similarly, there was no mass exodus from Sharm el-Sheikh after the Russian plane crash.

An even starker example was in Tunisia this summer after the direct attack on tourists at a hotel in Sousse that killed 30 Britons, two Germans and several tourists from other countries. Only a few hundred out of several thousand Germans in the country at the time took up the option offered by tour operators of flying home early. The majority chose to show trust in the destination by completing their holiday.

A lot depends on how the German foreign ministry officially judges the risk or danger in a country in its travel advice (or travel warning). Tour operators follow this advice very closely, partly for legal reasons. In other words, if there is an official warning, then tour operators will react quickly and fly customers home. If not, then they might offer free cancellations or re-bookings out of goodwill for a limited period.

The second question is how terrorist attacks (and other incidents) impact on travel demand and new bookings. Here, there is a fairly clear trend for Germans to play safe and switch to alternative destinations which offer similar products at comparable price levels. Spain and Greece, for example, have both benefited in recent years from lower demand for Tunisia, Egypt and (to some extent) Turkey.

What’s notable is that Germans want to keep travelling and go on holiday. There is no general decline in the overall outbound market but rather shifts in passenger flows between destinations. This is certainly a sign of how stable and mature the German market is, and also the readiness of consumers to change their holiday preferences.

From the perspective of a destination that has been impacted, the challenge is to regain consumer confidence. Egypt, for example, was making a clear comeback this year until the Sinai plane crash while tour operators expect Tunisia to need at least another year before it can start to recover. Destinations need to persuade consumers that they are safe again through clear and credible information about the security situation as well as with marketing measures such as subsidies, price reductions and glossy advertising campaigns.

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