efore the horrific events of Monday night unfolded in Manchester, the UK had scarcely seemed more appealing to foreign tourists.
Many overseas visitors had been taking advantage of the weak pound – a result of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union – which allowed them to enjoy greater spending power in a country that had for a long time been prohibitively expensive.
Figures released last week pointed to a big increase in arrivals since the drop of the sterling. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2016 the number of foreign tourists staying overnight in London broke the 19 million barrier for the first time ever, making the English capital one of the most visited cities on the planet.
o is Monday night’s attack – and the subsequent raising of the terror threat level to critical – likely to diminish the UK’s tourist appeal? Evidence from Tunisia, Egypt and France would lead us to believe that terrorist attacks have a huge impact on local tourism.
According to data gathered by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the number of foreign nationals arriving in Egypt plummeted by 45.5 per cent last year, compared with 2015.
That sharp decline came after a Russian passenger plane, Metrojet Flight 9268, exploded over the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015. A bomb was thought to have caused the disaster, which killed all 224 people on board.
More than 18 months later, the UK Government still hasn’t lifted its ban on flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, where the doomed jet took off from, and the local tourism industry continues to feel the fallout.
Terror threat levels around the world
Dramatic declines have also been witnessed in Tunisia where a gunman massacred 38 holidaymakers at a beachfront hotel in Sousse in 2015. The hotel reopened last month under a new name and tourists are trickling back, but the demand for travel to Tunisia remains suppressed.
However, according to the WTTC, the attack in Manchester this week is unlikely to have much of an impact on tourism in the city or the rest of the UK.
“There are two types of terrorist attacks,” David Scowsill, president of the WTTC, told Telegraph Travel. “One is an attack that is directly aimed at tourism – like what we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt – and in those cases those countries can often take about two years to recover.
“The second type of terrorist incident – and this is what we saw in Manchester – is a random attack, often in a city centre, often in a crowded place, where it is not specifically aimed at tourism and tourists. In those cases the impact on that city [in terms of tourism numbers] is very small.”
When such attacks do have a negative impact on local tourism, the recovery is usually quick.
“We have seen this previously with the London 7/7 bombings and we have seen it with the Madrid Atocha Station bombing,” said Mr Scowsill. “The overall impact is negligible because people are very resilient and travel despite these attacks.”
There are exceptions, however. According to the WTTC, tourism in France tailed off by around five per cent after the country suffered a string of terror attacks in Paris and Nice. However, foreign visitors have not stayed away for long.
“France is still the most visited place in the world,” said Mr Scowsill. “The impact was pretty negligible.”