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World Affairs

Fighting Terrorism with Tourism

By Sarah Ertelt
28 Feb 2017

In the summer of 2015, a lone gunmen massacred 38 tourists enjoying a sunny beach in Tunisia. Since this incident, many radical terrorists have been targeting tourist destinations for attacks, aiming to deter economic progress in these countries. These countries range from fragile Arab Spring nations attempting to progress economically, like Tunisia and Libya, to longstanding Western tourist destinations like France and Spain. Since tourism is an important part of the global economy, does the average traveler have a moral responsibility to ignore terror threats and continue traveling to potentially dangerous countries?

With terrorists targeting civilians and tourists instead of a country’s government, the fight against terrorism becomes less of a fight between terrorists and the state, but between terrorists and everyday individuals. France, for example, is one country whose civil government will likely remain intact despite terrorism. The economic sector, however, has taken significant damage since the Paris attacks in 2015, which killed 130 people and left the country in a state of emergency. The country has been in an official state of emergency since then. In the first nine months of 2016, tourist numbers fell by 5%, while traveler spending fell by 6.6%. If terror attacks continue to deter tourism, the United States could surpass France and become the most popular tourist destination in the world. Since 45% of the money tourism brings in goes into hotels and accommodations, French hotels have taken the hardest hit from decreased tourism. On a positive note, many hotels are offering deals to travelers to encourage tourism in Paris.

Spain is another country that may suffer from decreased tourism this year. In January 2016, ISIS proclaimed they would “recover our land from the invaders.” The increased use of Spanish in terrorist threats has officials worried that ISIS is recruiting translators and fighters from Spain. Those threats have been renewed over social media this January, and countries like the U.K. are concerned about their citizens’ safety in Spain. Both the U.K. and Spain are on level four anti-terrorist security on a five-point scale. Spanish authorities have detained 181 alleged jihadists since increasing to level four, and urge tourists this year to be vigilant when in highly populated areas.

Although France and Spain could suffer economic shortfalls because of terrorism, sensitive Arab Spring countries like Tunisia depend much more on traveler spending. Tunisia is the only country that has set up a democracy since the Arab Spring of 2011, and attacks like the one in 2015 are causing the delicate democracy to fracture. Referencing the terrorist organization behind the 2015 beach shooting, one local taxi driver told The Atlantic, “They want chaos. They want us [to be] like Libya. They want to make people poor and hungry so they can take over.” Tunisia’s fragile economy and democratic government will continue to fracture if tourists are deterred by terrorism in Tunisia and in the small country’s neighbors.

When the survival of a new democracy is on the line, should travelers prioritize these countries over their own individual safety? In countries like Spain, which has 65 million foreign tourists every year, the chances of an individual being caught in a tourist-specific terrorist attack is slim, and should not deter people from traveling to these relatively safe countries. After all, a person is more likely to die drowning in their own bathtub than in a terrorist attack.

In smaller countries with fragile governments, the benefits of traveler spending likely outweigh the potential for a terrorist attack. The more spending in these developing countries, the sooner governments will strengthen, thereby deterring terrorist organizations. When fighting terrorism, the answer very well might be taking a vacation as opposed to waging a war.  

Sarah graduated from DePauw University as an Honor Scholar majoring in Religious Studies major. She is from Fishers, Indiana and works in Indianapolis as an Onboarding Coordinator for BCForward.
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