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ETOA: ‘It is Vital that Europe is Perceived as a Safe Destination’

etoa-logoThe European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) on Tuesday said that it is vital that Europe is perceived as a safe destination.

In an announcement informing its members on the US State Department’s travel alert on “possible risks to travel”, as a result of activities by al-Qa’ida, ISIL and Boko Haram, the association notes that the alert contains no new information as it merely points out that incidents have occurred, and may occur again.

“It is global in scope, mentioning no specific geographic area. As such it is merely a recognition that the actions of the terrorists in Paris ten days ago, and the subsequent government reactions to them, are worthy of notice. But it does contain the statement that ‘U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation. Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places.’

ETOA underlines that the travel alert illustrates that the impact of such events are not local, nor regional, but global in scope.

“There are two issues here. The immediate situation in Europe as it affects visitors, and the wider impact that the situation will have on our industry”, ETOA stresses.

Immediate situation in Europe

According to ETOA, the current situation is a product of the authorities’ determination to be publicly engaged in reducing risk. This is specific to two countries:

Flag_of_Belgium.svgIn Brussels the government is continuing with its “level four” terrorism threat actions. This, in effect, means restrictions on major public events and a high level of police and military presence. This presence will be mainly apparent on public transport, rail stations and shopping areas. Schools in Brussels remain closed today (Tuesday), but will re-open from tomorrow. The Brussels metro will also be re-opened on Wednesday: other public transport (on trams and buses) are still operating.

In the rest of Belgium (which is under a lower level of “threat”), all services and attractions are running normally, albeit with an increased security presence.

Belgium have announced no formal border checks.

France flag.svgIn Paris, all public services and all museums and all attractions are now open normally. Tours were restarted at the Stade de France last Saturday.

The only restriction in place is on the movement of French School groups. This does not apply to foreign groups, though some countries have followed the French lead and advised such trips to be temporarily stopped. We expect this restriction to be lifted next Sunday, 29th of November.

The French borders remain open, with some checks taking place. We understand that these are being carried out with discretion and are not causing any severe disruption. Schengen visas, irrespective of their country of issuance, are being accepted.

Longer term impact on demand

Map of EuropeETOA notes that the longer term impact on demand is difficult to determine.

“There is no way of knowing if the situation is going to stabilise, nor if the reaction of Western Governments will trigger further outrages, or the fear of further attacks. It is fear that is damaging to demand.

“There is circumstantial evidence that markets are more resilient to such scares, and there is some consolation to be drawn that the current crisis occurred at the end of the operational season in Europe, and before the main booking period. It is obviously crucial that confidence returns quickly.”

ETOA is working with the European Travel Commission (ETC) and research partners to see if there is any optimism to be derived from live booking trends over the last two weeks.

“The moment we establish what is happening, we will communicate this with members. It is also important to establish the reaction in our main origin markets: in order to do this we will be surveying our members as to how far booking trends are affected.”

In the meantime it is vital that Europe is perceived as a safe destination.

“There are no genuine dangers that have to be addressed. Over two million Parisians continue (and will continue) to go about their lives unharmed. We regard Paris as now being safer than at any time in recent history.”

ETOA is the leading trade association for tour operators and suppliers with business in European destinations.

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