Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tourism Unity In The Face Of Terrorism

Nice is the fifth most populous city in France. It has the third busiest airport: Paris has the two busiest. Palma is the eighth most populous city in Spain. It has the third busiest airport: Madrid and Barcelona are the two busiest.

On Bastille Day last year, as if you need reminding, a lorry was driven into crowds on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Eighty-six people lost their lives. In the immediate aftermath of this terrorist attack, the number of visitors went down, as well you might have expected them to have done. But they started to come back, just as they started to return to Paris. By April of this year, French tourism in general was rebounding. France remains the world's top tourist destination.

Tourism is remarkably resilient. The Mediterranean countries affected by terrorism are showing signs of recovery, and they are ones for which there may be general perceptions that they are less inherently safe than, say, France or Spain. Given such perceptions, terrorism in Spain, one feels, will not have a major impact. Even in Nice, although the number of tourists fell, the promenade was back to its bustling self within a matter of days: Helen Welford, writing in the New Statesman, who spends part of the year in Nice, reported this to have been the case.

Palma, because of the population and the airport, bears some similarity with Nice. One thing it doesn't share is a terrorist atrocity. The last time there were any terrorist incidents in Mallorca, they did affect some parts of Palma, but the greatest effect was felt in Palmanova. In 2009, two Guardia Civil officers were blown up by a bomb planted on their patrol vehicle. The bombs that subsequently went off in Palma had negligible impact.

These were the work of ETA, a very different type of terrorist threat to the one posed by so-called jihadists. After those bombs went off, the travel editor of The Sun crassly opined that they signalled some form of end to tourism. When terrorism occurs, cool heads are needed; not hysterical over-reaction. The effect on tourism was more or less non-existent. Tourists themselves tended to react with resignation: the sort of the thing that could happen anywhere. Quite, but a bomb directed at the Guardia Civil isn't the same as a lorry ploughing into people on a crowded promenade.

Inevitably, the Barcelona attack has raised questions about Mallorca and its tourism. Of course it will raise questions, but questions were there before. There is no reason why Barcelona should have any impact on Mallorca. In Barcelona itself, there will be concerns, but Santi Vila, the Catalonian business minister, says there have been no cancellations or changes of plan. He may be over optimistic in this regard, but as the president of the European Tour Operators Association notes, there were very few cancellations in the UK because of terrorist incidents.

He, Tom Jenkins, accepts that some people may decide in the short term that they don't want to go to Barcelona (or indeed Spain), but he anticipates only a minor impact. He also makes the point that travellers are aware that terrorism can occur anywhere. No, it isn't the same as the ETA bombs, but the resignation and understanding are much the same.

What Barcelona will have done, though, is to undermine the reputation of safety in Spain as a whole. It is this reputation, with Mallorca very much to the fore, that has led to all the "borrowed" tourists and therefore the steep rise in tourism numbers. Any reduction in those borrowed numbers, one would suggest, will owe little or nothing to the Barcelona attack. Of greater relevance will be the recovery of other destinations and increased prices. Bizarrely enough, one sees comments on social media of anti-tourist protests being a factor. This is bizarre when set against acts of terrorism.

But these protests, and their impact, owe much to the same sort of hysterical media coverage as The Sun displayed in 2009. There needs to be some perspective, but in the pursuit of sensationalism, perspective goes out the window. Elements of the British media (and German) have long loved to try and do Mallorca down. Perhaps it should be taken as a compliment for the island's success.

The protests, however, should be considered in the context of the Barcelona attack. Considered by politicians, that is. The narratives of some, which it can be argued have helped to fuel anti-tourism sentiment, need to alter. Put into the context of terrorism, these narratives are pathetic. Saturation and massification do not kill anyone. It is more important than ever to portray a sympathetic face to tourism, not one that can appear indifferent or hostile.

Palma is similar to Nice. God forbid that it becomes any more similar.

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