Terror less scary to travelers than you think

Police control the access to Brussels' central train station following Tuesday's bomb attacks in Brussels on March 23, 2016.
Vincent Kessler | Reuters
Police control the access to Brussels' central train station following Tuesday's bomb attacks in Brussels on March 23, 2016.

The terror attacks Tuesday in Brussels threw travel to Europe for a loop, redirecting flights and shuttering one of the busiest airports in the continent. The airport was to remain closed Wednesday, canceling or redirecting hundreds of flights.

In the days after a terrorist attack, jittery passengers cancel their trips and try for refunds on their flights and hotel stays. But it turns out the long-term effects on tourism take a lot less time for a destination to overcome than other crisis situations.

The travel and tourism industry bounces back a lot faster after terror attacks than other crisis events. That doesn't mean there are no negative effects, but countries tend to recover more quickly than following disease outbreaks, environmental disasters and political turmoil.

Crisis category
Avg. recovery time (months)
Range in recovery time (months)
Disease 21.3 14-35
Environmental disaster 23.8 4-33
Political turmoil 26.7 11-45
Terrorism 13 2-22

That's according to an analysis by the World Travel and Tourism Council, an industry group, that suggests countries recover from terrorist attacks far more quickly than other disasters. The council looked at 34 case studies between 2001 and 2014 and measured the time it took for travel and tourism to return to normal as well as an estimate of lost arrivals due to the crisis.

The average recovery time to a terror-stricken destination is about 13 months, the study found. That's almost half the number you see for other crisis categories.

Bookings to Paris dropped immediately after the November attacks that killed 130, but have recovered to near-normal levels in the last few weeks, according to data from ForwardKeys, a travel information firm. ForwardKeys' data are based on 200,000 travel agents around the world in its database system.

That's a far quicker return to normal than might be expected, even based on the average that WTTC found. Travel executives were hoping that the Euro Cup — which France is hosting this summer — will help travel to the country top the previous year.

But there could be a spillover effect after the recent attack in Brussels. After Paris, Europe as a whole saw international arrivals fall and is the only destination region to see a decrease on a year-over-year basis for the period from November, according to data from ForwardKeys.

Paris and Brussels are the only two cities among Europe's top travel destinations that saw a decline in travel from all source markets since the Paris attacks in November.

Annebeth Wijtenburg, a spokesperson for WTTC, cautioned that it was difficult to make specific predictions about the impact. But considering that the Brussels attacks targeted the airport and a train station — the specific places that would be frequented by tourists — they could have more of an impact.

"Could be the case that while Paris numbers continue to recover, the recovery might be slower than it would have been without these latest attacks," she said.