Saturday 24 August 2019

Alarmists, not militants, will destroy the world of travel for all involved

A Belgian police officer patrols the Grand Place in central Brussels yesterday. Photo: AP
A Belgian police officer patrols the Grand Place in central Brussels yesterday. Photo: AP

Eoghan Corry

Americans are famously the most nervous of travellers. When they get a blanket government advisory telling them to beware of venturing beyond Ellis Island, which is effectively what happened yesterday, the rest of us should be worried.

The USA is our second biggest inbound market, and among the fastest-growing. Ireland is anticipating growth of 14pc-15pc in inbound tourism traffic from the USA in 2016 on top of similar growth this year.

Next summer we will have 30 flights on some days to North America. We were anticipating nearly 1.5 million American visitors.

It is not just hoteliers and purveyors of green-haired dolls who should worry. Our big aviation players need the industry to grow. The first of Ryanair's 180 new aircraft have started to arrive. It needs growth, and lots of it, in European travel to fill them.

The order books of Ireland's lead aircraft lessors are even more mind-boggling and more growth-dependent than Ryanair, including - but by no means confined to - Aengus Kelly's Aercap, Dómhnal Slattery's Avolon and Hugh Flynn's Air Contractors.

Our aviators' plans are all based on the expectation that international travel will continue to grow rapidly and without faltering.

Yesterday, America indicated it had lost confidence in the world's ability to protect its citizens, in an industry where confidence matters. A lot.

This industry needs the confidence of those who are about to click the confirm button and the gentlemen who finance an industry that depends, physically as well as metaphorically, on air - on the skies being blue and clear.

We have been here before. The leaders of the tourism industry, Francis Brennan, Bob Mooney, Paula Carroll, John Hehir and Margaret Cahill among them, were dispatched to America in the aftermath of the Libya bombings in 1985, the aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1992 and the post 9/11 freeze of 2002, to deliver a message: "Ireland is safe, it is an island off an island off the coast of Europe."

That campaign worked. Ireland's tourism turned before its competitors.

This time it's different. It is impossible to miss news that sporting events are being cancelled and metro systems being shut down in the era of 24-hour news channels.

A government-issued travel advisory, which thankfully was not around during our own troubles, can have the effect of cancelling an entire national industry, gives travel insurance companies an opt-out clause and leaves those who continue to travel without cover.

Furthermore, the USA has seen the emergence of travel scaremongery, each alert more fearful than the previous, with the federal government, states and cities falling over each other to tell Americans not to travel to Mexican cities and states. Sometimes they are accused of acting in response to nothing more than the latest round of alarmism on Fox News.

If anything, travel should be getting safer. The technology that has transformed our smartphones and cars has also changed the security world. As a result of recent events we can expect more inconvenience when we travel, extra restrictions on hold luggage to match the restrictions on cabin baggage, more rigorous (and time-consuming) airport checks, an extra scanner at the airport gate, and airport-type security extended to rail travel and entry to public spaces and events.

An industry that has spent the past 14 years responding to 9/11, to a near-obsessive level, has developed a new armoury to help profile its airline passengers.

It has starting looking at extending this process to the wider community.

Alarmism has always been the enemy of tourism.

The things that kill Americans abroad is what kills them at home - road accidents, drownings and cardiac conditions.

We are similar - three fatalities in Tunisia and one in Turkey in 11 years have left us shocked, but after the enormity of the tragedy is considered, anyone considering changing their travel plans has to set them against the context of the 8 million tourists that Ireland sends abroad each year. From this we will suffer 200 fatalities, but from heart conditions and falls, not from headline-grabbing events.

Holidaymakers have reason to fear the militants, but the chances of falling foul of an act of violence are so minimal they are the equivalent of winning the Lotto more than three times in your lifetime.

It is not the militants, but the alarmists and the bureaucrats that will spoil our travel plans. They may have already started to do so.

Eoghan Corry is editor of Travel Extra

Irish Independent

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