The U.S. Department of State recently issued a worldwide travel alert following November’s horrific terror attacks in Paris and the subsequent security lockdown in Brussels. Beirut and a Russian airliner were among those targeted just prior to that, with Bamako, San Bernardino, and Lake Chad among those attacked since. With explicit threats directed at such cities as D.C., Rome, London, and Moscow, many people are understandably uneasy and uncertain about whether or not it’s safe to walk out their front doors.
In times of crisis, one of the first things to take a major hit is the tourism industry. Fear sparks a knee-jerk reaction and people immediately cancel their travel plans. For many destinations, this can deal a severe economic blow. France, for example, sees some 84 million tourists annually. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the total contribution of the tourism industry to GDP is 9% and to employment, 10% (2014 figures). If people start to cancel their visits, the impact could be devastating to a nation that is trying to pick up the pieces and soldier forth.
Ceasing to travel also pulls the plug on the things that help make us human. Travel bridges the culture gap, fosters shifts in perspective, and connects us more deeply. Travel fuels empathy, tolerance, and respect. Without travel, it’s much easier for ignorance to take hold, or even hatred towards a faceless culture. It’s also a lot easier to drop bombs on people you don't know.
The terrorist attacks are intended to strike fear in our hearts, paralyze us, disrupt our economies, and provoke us to continue the cycle of violence—a cycle that seems never ending and that is, thanks largely to social media, illuminated more vividly now than ever before.
So what can we do, those of us left not just in fear, but feeling helpless, too?
We can continue to spend time with friends and family, to go out on those Friday nights, and to love one another, celebrate life, and work each day to make the world a bit of a better place.
I visited Paris last weekend, after a travel industry conference in Cannes. For me, it was an act of support as well as defiance: Terrorism wasn’t going to prevent me from spending time with friends who’d just gotten engaged, or taking in the sights in the City of Light. And I found the vibe pretty much the same as always. There were fewer tourists, but the locals were going about their days, shopping for groceries, going to work, and spending time with their friends and families.
I believe that traveling more, connecting more deeply with our fellow humans, and understanding their worlds more fully, is the best way to rise from the ashes of these tragedies. Imagine the statement it would make if more people, not fewer, came to Paris after the attacks. In this time of conflict, let’s pack our bags and keep packing them. Life shouldn't stop because a group of terrorists says so.
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Here at AFAR, we believe that travel done right can be transformative. That's why we started AFAR Experiences, trips that offer unparalleled access to local thought leaders and tastemakers. Join us in Dubai in February to learn about this fascinating city, from the people who live there.