Travelers, concerned about terrorism, won’t let it stop them

Updated March 23, 2017 - 5:11 pm

Turkey. France. Belgium. Now London. As yet another destination is hit by terror, travelers are sighing with dismay and thinking carefully about personal safety, even while saying the latest attack won’t keep them home.

“I don’t want to be afraid, but I also have this extra layer of being on heightened alert,” said Nikki Stephens, 26, of Dallas, who’s planning her first trip to London next month. She’s been thinking about precautions like always knowing where exits are and walking on the inside of roads, away from cars. That said, she added, “We can’t quit our lives and run from terror. I am going to London and plan on having a wonderful time.”

Pattie Haubner, who’s traveled extensively since retiring, says “terrorism is never far from my mind. It’s a daily — and many times daily — thought.” She chooses lodging away from potential targets like train stations, and makes “thoughtful decisions” about where to sit in cafes. She scrapped plans to visit Morocco and Turkey, and on a trip to Christmas markets in France, she avoided group tours, stuck to smaller markets and took note of potential escape routes and where police were stationed. “All I can do is try to be aware and hope for the best,” she said.

Travel agents at Travel Leaders in Houston spend a lot of time talking to clients “like we are therapists,” said agent Michelle Weller. “That is what they want. It was shocking for them and an American was killed (in the London attack) and it is difficult for people to shake.” Clients don’t necessarily want to cancel trips, but they “are very concerned.”

A report issued Tuesday by the World Travel & Tourism Council showed that tourism dropped in destinations hit by terrorism in 2016, decreasing 4 percent in Belgium, 7 percent in France and 22 percent in Turkey. At the same time, WTTC said, tourism is growing in Portugal, Spain and Eastern Europe as travelers seek destinations they perceive as safer.

The WTTC’s Tuesday report also projected a 6 percent growth in tourism in the United Kingdom for 2017. After Wednesday’s attack, WTTC CEO David Scowsill said in a statement, “England and London specifically are very resilient tourism destinations. We do not expect this isolated incident to have an impact on people’s decision to travel to the country nor its capital.”

Still, the news takes a toll on travelers. “Oh no, not LONDON!” tweeted Tessa Netting, a Los Angeles actress, after hearing the news. She’s a huge Harry Potter fan and had a magical first visit to London last year. “It’s shocking and it’s heartbreaking,” she said. “It makes you realize any time you travel, something could happen.”

Jacoby Jones, who’s studying business at a community college in Indianapolis, says news of terror attacks has become “the new normal. You turn on the TV, you’re almost guaranteed something has happened somewhere.” He noted that there’s a tipping point that takes destinations out of play for some travelers after repeated acts of terror, citing Turkey as a place he wouldn’t risk going to now.

Elizabeth Brown is planning to visit London in April, including a walking tour from Westminster, where the attack took place. “When I heard the news, I thought, ‘Wow, that could’ve been us,’” she said. But she’s going ahead with the trip to London, as well as Paris, saying, “You can’t plan to avoid a terrorist attack.” Brown works in New York City for a synagogue, so “we have our own security issues every day at work.”

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