When tragedy or turmoil strikes, tourism suffers. How much depends on the nature of the crisis and things like media coverage. For example, Greece's recent economic unsteadiness and Tunisia's terrorist attacks have garnered media attention, consequently causing an increase in searches for both destinations, yet a drop in actual bookings. Here, we examine travel intent for both countries to see how these current events are affecting tourism, starting with Tunisia.
The Sousse terror attack in Tunisia
Tunisia is an almost by-the-book example of how instability impacts travel. We compared behavior affected by attacks in March and June, starting with the latter, which took place in Sousse, a Mediterranean seaside tourist magnet. In the days immediately after the June 26 terrorist attack that killed 38 people, including 30 U.K. tourists, the travel intent volatility began. Counterintuitively, flight searches from the U.K. and Ireland were up by 11%, possibly prompted by travelers' curiosity and the media spotlight, but a few days later flight searches dropped by 16%.
Travel intent lower now than in March
When taking a longer look at travel from the U.K., we see a greater impact on airline bookings as a result of the Sousse terror attack than from the previous attack at the Bardo National Museum in Tunisia's capital, Tunis, on March 18. The month after the museum attack, there was a 17% decline in bookings; in July, after the Sousse attack, we saw a 76% decline, to just 24% of March volume.
Government guidance had an impact. When the U.K.'s governing Foreign & Commonwealth Office advised against all nonessential travel to Tunisia on July 8, Ireland quickly followed suit. In fact, many tour operators and airlines have ceased service from the U.K. to Tunisia until the end of October.
Despite these warnings, online travel searches jumped on July 10 and doubled with respect to the day of the attack. We interpret this surprising spike as people taking interest in the government's announcement, potentially also looking for alternative ways into Tunisia.
This interest was short-lived, though. From July 14 onward, travel intent plummets to 60% of pre-attack levels.
The debt crisis in Greece
Greece is one of the world's top tourist destinations. Prior to the economic crisis and referendum announcement in June, Greece consistently saw travel intent comparable to its four major Mediterranean competitors: Croatia, Italy, Spain and Turkey. But as economic tensions rose, travel demand fell.
Travel interest began declining in early June as Greece economic stress started getting attention again, with Greece dropping 10 percentage points in travel searches vs. the average of its competitive set on June 10. As talks between the E.U., the International Monetary Fund and Greece became more heated, the effect intensified.
Following the Greek referendum on June 27, searches for the country fell to 30% below the average of the other Mediterranean market searches. After the referendum on July 5, a debt crisis settlement was announced, and the gap started closing, though it has not closed completely.
What's next for Greece and Tunisia?
Despite the country's financial difficulties, global traveler interest in Greece has been remarkably stable over the past two quarters, keeping it in the global Top 10. Greece also remains a Top 10 destination for Europeans but drops from fourth in the first quarter to eighth in the second quarter.
Even if Greece left the eurozone, its tourism could ultimately benefit from the devaluation of its currency, potentially bringing about an increase in tourism.
Tunisia's story is a bit murkier, and terrorist attacks on tourists are certainly of greater concern to the average traveler (and governments) than economic instability. Yet even that is not insurmountable. According to a recent Deloitte report for the World Economic Forum, the pace at which travel recovers after political unrest or a violent event has "shortened significantly" over the last 15 years.
Overall, there is hope for both markets, assuming the unrest settles. After all, it wasn't long ago that Iceland was in the throes of a severe economic depression (2008 to 2010), and Haiti was decimated by a catastrophic earthquake (2010). Today, Haiti tops the list of destinations with the fastest-growing traveler interest from the U.S., up 34 spots from last summer. Iceland is also in the top three of fastest-rising destinations for both U.S. and E.U. travelers.
In the end, it's crucial for travel professionals to stay on top of world events, because travelers do, and they change their behavior with the changing conditions faster than they did even just a few years ago.