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Soft Targets and Tourist Terrorism

The Brussels, Istanbul and Paris terrorism attacks on soft targets and airports are all designed to maximize fear among two target populations: citizens and tourists. Citizens of the places where terrorist attacks occur must of course endure daily fear about whether they will become a statistic in the course of going about their daily business. They do not have a short-term choice about where they live and work — but tourists do. Like Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups before them, ISIS is now specifically targeting tourists and their destinations to achieve their objectives.

One need look no further than the downing of Metrojet Flight 9268 (at Sharm el-Sheik) and Egypt Air Flight 804 (from Paris to Cairo, widely believed to have been the result of terrorism) to see what kind of impact acts of terrorism can have on a nation’s tourist industry. In 2010, the amount of revenue earned by Egypt through tourism was estimated to have been in excess of $12 billion, accounting for 11% of the country’s GDP, more than 14% of its foreign exchange reserves, and attracting nearly 15 million visitors. In 2015, that figure was already just under half that amount, at $6.1 billion. In the first quarter of 2016, Egypt attracted just over 1 million visitors. Egypt has seen this before, following the Luxor attacks in 1997 and the changes in government during the Arab Awakening. It took the industry many years to recover.

In 2014, a record 37 million tourists visited Turkey, accounting for almost 5% of GDP. As of April of this year, year-on-year tourist arrivals had already fallen by 35% to 2.5 million for the period, the largest drop in 22 years. Visitors from Russia had declined 92% (the result of the fallout from the downing of the Russian military jet earlier in the year), and substantial drops had been reported from tourists from a variety of (particularly European) nations.

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