Following a major terrorist attack like the one in Paris last month, the massacre at Garissa University in Kenya, the bombing of the Metro jet on the Sinai Peninsula, anxiety is obviously high amongst tourists and those who are now planning trips. What is less obvious is what kind of long-term effect the recent events around the globe will have on the travel industry.
While there is a noticeably higher level of anxiety, especially when it comes to travel in France (and Europe in general), there is also little evidence of a doomsday scenario for the travel industry. Majority of people still want to go places, especially this festive season.
The coastal area of Kenya is full of beaches and will be pumped with a beehive of activities this Christmas holidays. But the truth is, some people are still afraid to visit the coast because they are aware of the terrorist activities that have taken place in the area and can’t really rely on the government for protection.
Putting Statistics to the worry
A new report that addresses the issue of travel anxiety. “How Global Voices Shape Travel Choices,” created by the CMO Council and GeoBranding Center in partnership with AIG, includes the results of a survey of more than 2,000 travelers. Though terror-related worries were included in the questioning, so were other issues that could potentially cause concern for anyone going abroad.
Terrorism was high on the list. The report states that “one in four travelers has changed vacation plans in the past year due to global or local safety, security or health concerns. Of this group, 83 percent point to terrorist activity as their primary reason to avoid travel to certain destinations.”
77 percent of all people surveyed said that they at least weighed terrorist activity when choosing a destination or planning a trip While 67 percent of survey respondents admitted to concerns about the Ebola virus.
Anxiety and non-stop media coverage
Media coverage plays a huge role in creating and compounding worry, especially in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, the internet and social media. “The duration of anxiety is longer now and is related to the size of the media coverage, and the frequency of the headlines.”
The survey-takers’ Ebola fears illustrate this perfectly. While 67 percent of people were concerned about Ebola, which killed 11,000 people during the most recent outbreak, only 26 percent mentioned anxiety about malaria, which kills one million people per year. Even when other insect-borne illnesses, such as dengue fever, were included, Ebola still remained the top health concern for the surveyed travelers (67 percent for Ebola versus 63 percent for insect-borne diseases).
When asked which parts of the world gave them the most concern (they could choose more than one region), 91 percent of travelers mentioned the Middle East. North Africa and West/Central Africa came in at 56 percent and 58 percent, respectively. For comparison, the region that includes Central America and the Caribbean caused worry for 23 percent of travelers.
Are there any remedies for travel anxiety?
The first, and perhaps most obvious, thing is travel insurance. This is usually billed as a practical (and often optional) part of trip planning, but it can actually help remedy anxiety. The survey showed that people had a strong desire to continue traveling, but that more are adopting the mindset of, as Miller puts it, “I’m going to travel, but I’m smart enough to have a safety net.”
Worldwide, 55 percent of the people surveyed said that they relied mainly on the government and law enforcement as their “trusted source” for information about travel safety. In contrast, tourism bureaus only had the trust of 21 of respondents. Crowd-sourced travel sites came in at 25 percent, travel agents at 26 percent, travel journalists at 33 percent and word-of-mouth information (from family and/or friends) at 34 percent.
Tailoring travel promotion for a new era
The reason that tourism bureaus only scored 21 percent is because they have a public image of only promoting the good aspects of their country, while completely ignoring those things that cause worry and that people actually want to know if they are ever going to consider traveling to certain places. The best solution for these travel promotion organizations is, as Miller puts it, to “not be afraid to be a little bit transparent.”
A recent example of this approach is Kenya, which timed a new tourism promotion push to coincide with the removal of U.S. and U.K. travel warnings from several important regions around the country. The tourism bureau also opened up a special information line for tourists and travel firms so that everyone can get official information about the latest conditions and most recent incidents in the country.
The fact is that travel anxiety has always existed, and now, with non-stop media coverage of every tragedy and disaster, it is quite high. If you look at the results of the CMO Council’s survey, the travel industry’s best response seems to be to focus on giving people the tools that they need (namely, clear-eyed and truthful information) so that they can combat anxiety with facts and be able to plan their travels without being influenced by the internet’s non-stop chatter.