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Saturday, 30 November, 2002, 06:42 GMT
Tourism in an uncertain world
map of world and recent threats and attacks on tourists

From New York to Moscow, Bali to Tunisia, it appears few places in the world are safe from terror.

The recent attacks in Kenya and Bali highlight just how vulnerable tourists are as potential targets.

Security experts have raised fears that Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network is increasingly switching its focus to 'soft targets' such as holidaymakers.

Police search through the remains of the Safari Club in Bali
Experts say Bali will need a year to recover from its bombing
"Nowhere in the world is really that safe," David Capitanchik, a terrorism expert at Aberdeen University, told BBC News Online. "It could happen anywhere - my biggest fear is that it would happen in London's Oxford Street in the Christmas rush."

But he says some places are safer than others because of how seriously the authorities take security issues.

"Where there is no security, that's where the terrorists go. And developing countries are increasingly becoming the most desirable tourist destinations. But, in such places, the authorities don't pay much attention to security."

Mr Capitanchik said that South-East Asia and East Africa were particularly bad for security - despite previous attacks on embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Security clampdown

But he described Spain, with its decades of trouble with the Basque separatist group ETA, as relatively safe because the authorities take security seriously.

"Egypt, too, has taken a tough line on terrorism and its tourism is starting to recover," Mr Capitanchik added.

Western tourists have been shunning Islamic countries since the US-led war on terror began

Rok Klancnik, World Tourism Organization
The country's tourism industry was devastated after 58 holidaymakers were killed by Islamic extremists at Luxor in 1997. Since then it has clamped down on its Islamic insurgency and tourism is picking up.

Similarly, Tunisia and Morocco have recently launched security crackdowns. A lorry bombing outside a synagogue in Tunisia in April which killed 21 people, caused a downturn in tourism.

Morocco is a trouble-free destination for most visitors. But in May, authorities arrested suspected al-Qaeda operatives who had allegedly planned to attack Nato warships, as well as buses and a tourist site in Marrakech.

Islamic countries in general have suffered a downturn in tourism in the past year.

Threat of war

"Western tourists have been shunning Islamic countries since the US-led war on terror began," Rok Klancnik of the World Tourism Organization told BBC News Online.

"But what we are seeing is an increase in inter-regional travel in the Middle East and South-East Asia."

Dubai and Beirut, for example, are encountering boom times in terms of Arab visitors.

Some commentators say some Arabs have chosen holidays in the Middle East over the US, because of fears of an anti-Arab backlash since 11 September.

The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians has had an effect on the whole Middle East, as has the threat of a US-led war in Iraq.

In Jordan, correspondents say anti-American sentiment is rising because of the potential conflict. In January 2000, the first al-Qaeda bomb plot against tourism in an Islamic country was thwarted by police.

Israel itself has suffered badly since the Palestinian uprising started more than two years ago. The country's economy contracted as tourist revenues fell.

And the US - the third most popular tourist destination behind France and Spain - has also been hard hit.


Americans themselves have shunned overseas trips, largely because of post-11 September fears, sparking a slowdown in sales of world travel.

After the Bali bombing, the State Department issued a travel warning for 11 countries, including Indonesia and much of South-East Asia, where Al-Qaeda is known to have a network.

Denmark, Germany, Britain and Australia also issued a general travel warning for the area as well as for specified popular tourist places in Thailand where the possibility of a terrorist attack was deemed high.

In Thailand, for example, reports say tourists from South-East Asia and adventurous youngsters have not been deterred, but wealthy, middle-aged tourists from elsewhere are shunning the luxury resorts.

In the Philippines, which is also viewed as high risk by several Western governments, a fight by the Muslim minority for the independence of Mindanao, has spilled over to one of the country's top beach resorts.

According to the World Tourism Organization's Mr Klancnik most destinations will bounce back because Westerners' perceptions of risk alter quickly.

"Tourism is resilient, he says.

"Egypt needed about three years to start recovering and our organisation agrees with the Indonesian Government that Bali will take about a year and Kenya will take about six months, under certain conditions."

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See also:

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