Terrorist attacks lead sunseekers to change their plans
Holidaymakers abandon Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey in favour of Spain
Armed police on horseback patrol Marhaba beach in June where 38 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Sousse, Tunisia. File photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
The far-reaching tentacles of the Islamic State terror machine are impossible to miss when browsing the travel advice section of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) website.
Previously popular tourist spots have become no-go areas for Irish travellers in recent months, while dire warnings hang over other sun-kissed states because of threats of extreme violence from Jihadists.
Two separate attacks in Tunisia, in March and June of last year, left dozens of tourists dead and devastated a part of that country’s economy which accounted for more than 10 per cent of its GDP.
About two million fewer tourists – which amounts to almost a third of the annual total – travelled to the deeply troubled North African country last year, compared with 2014. Most of the drop off was recorded in the second half of the year in the wake of the killing of 38 people, including three Irish holidaymakers, at the hands of a lone gunman who opened fire on a beach in Sousse.
“Since last July and following consultations and consideration of the security situation in Tunisia, Irish citizens have been advised to avoid non-essential travel to Tunisia in light of increased security concerns,” the DFA says.
It has much the same advice for would-be travellers to Egypt. Tensions have been high there, but the situation took a dramatic turn for the worse following the downing of a Russian plane which had just taken off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh at the end of October.
The DFA stops short of imposing a blanket ban on leisure travel to Egypt. Irish citizens are “advised to avoid non-essential travel to Egypt due to a heightened threat of terrorist incidents, including targeted attacks against foreigners”, but it makes an exception for the Red Sea coastal resorts including Sharm El Sheikh.
Turkey is suffering too. “If you’re planning a trip to Turkey, we advise you to exercise caution,” the DFA says. “The threat from terrorism in Turkey remains high.”
It stresses that areas popular with Irish travellers are located at a substantial distance from regions most under threat, but it urges all tourists to be vigilant.
The warnings are having a serious impact on many Irish tourists’ plans.
“There is this perception that the tourist resorts are close to the Syrian border but the reality is that they are more than 1,200km away,” says Tanya Airey, managing director of Sunway, the Irish tour operator, which has been flying people to Turkey for more than 20 years.
“There are still bookings coming in because of the value that is to be found there, but business has dropped off significantly.”
She says it is too early to say exactly by how much bookings are down, but early this week, TUI, the parent company of Thomson and Falcon Travel, painted a very bleak picture of the impact of the fear factor on Turkey’s tourism trade. It released figures showing summer holiday bookings down 40 per cent, as war and mass migration from neighbouring Syria saw tourists turning away and opting instead for Greece, the Caribbean and – more often than not – Spain instead.
“Tunisia was a big destination for us but that has completely gone now,” Airey says. “It is totally off the table for us now.” She has no idea when that market will reopen. “We will have to wait and see. It is just horrific for the people of Tunisia. Imagine if something like this had happened in Ireland during the Troubles. Imagine if the world had been told not to come here.”
Airey expresses dismay that so many Irish people are choosing not to travel to Turkey this year out of fear she believes to be misplaced.
She points out that the Syrian border is 1,200km from Turkey’s key tourist destinations. Roughly the same distance separates Dublin and Frankfurt, while less than 700km separates Ireland and France, a country which comes with its own official warnings from the DFA.
“If you’re planning a trip to France, we advise you to exercise extreme caution. A national state of emergency was declared in France following multiple terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th, 2015,” the department warns.
“Irish citizens travelling within, to or from France should exercise extreme caution and follow the instructions of the local authorities and should expect reinforced security measures.”
Spain has been benefiting from the move away from Turkey and North Africa, as people from Ireland appear to be booking holidays in numbers not seen since the height of the boom.
According to Paul Dawson of the Irish Travel Agents’ Association (ITAA), some travel agents saw a sales increase of 40 per cent in January, compared with last year’s figures.
“Recent terror attacks have pushed Egypt and Tunisia off the list of top destinations, but they have not deterred Irish people from travelling,” he said, suggesting that people were looking at winter sun alternatives including the Canary Islands, while mainland Spain was also seeing a bounce.
And it is not just Irish people who are travelling to Spain in greater numbers. In 2014 about 5,000 Irish tourists travelled to Tunisia, so the impact of that cohort looking elsewhere for the sun would not be overly significant. But hundreds of thousands of tourists from Germany, Russia and the Nordic countries who traditionally travelled are now switching their attention to Spain, which is driving prices up.
Gonzalo Ceballos is managing director of the Spanish Tourism Office in Dublin. He says that supply is likely to be an issue this summer because of what has happened elsewhere, although he suggests that an undersupply in familiar haunts might encourage Irish people to explore different, perhaps less travelled, parts of Spain.
“There is a whole world to explore just 30km or 40km in from the coastal resorts,” he says. “The weather and the food is the same, but there might be better value to be found.”