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Terrorism Threat Changing the Shape of Vacation Travel

As the International Tourism Fair in Berlin closes, a possible war in Iraq is worying German vacation travelers. But German travel experts say gated villages are not the answer.


War threat is making holidaymakers nervous

As the International Tourism Fair closes on Tuesday in Berlin, the global travel industry -- worth $460 billion globally -- is facing gloomy times. With the rumblings of a U.S.-led war against Iraq getting ever closer, travel companies like TUI and Thomas Cook are reporting that vacation bookings by Germans -- one of the best traveled nations in the world -- are down 10 percent. Middle East destinations are the most affected.

With 11 countries on the German Foreign Ministry's "no-go" list and the memory of the 14 German tourists killed in a terrorist bomb attack on a synagogue in Tunisia last April still fresh in German holidaymakers' minds, tourists questioned in a recent survey said security was their number one priority. But travel experts at a discussion forum at the ITB said that pandering to tourist paranoia and herding travelers into gated holiday villages were not the way to lift the tourist industry out of its current depression.

Gated holiday complexes trap tourists

Karl Bonn, a German professor of travel management, said tourists' fear of terrorist attack was a worrying development, believing the era of wanderlust and exploratory travel were now a thing of the past. Increasingly tourists will choose to vacation in high security complexes, he said, akin to the gated holiday villages prevalent nowadays in Caribbean hotspots like St. Lucia and Barbados.

"When you travel to a tourist area in Egypt these days you have to go through a checkpoint to get into the tourist zone,” he said. “It's only once past this cordon that you can move freely. But it's not so much that tourists are traveling into a dangerous situation, rather they are taking their fear from home with them."

For Khaula Saleh, an Arab journalist living in Germany, the idea of packing tourists into gated communities is also not the answer. "Believe me, if vacationers were more integrated into the places where they were staying, it wouldn't be so easy for terrorists to launch attacks on them," she said.

Bonn acknowledged that tourists were a prime target for attacks by politically motivated terrorists who want to achieve as much media exposure as possible. And the head of the German Tourism Industry Association, Klaus Laepple, acknowledged that there were some places in the world that were definitely safer than others.

"We can't just sit back any more and divide up the world into good and evil, safe and unsafe. But we must keep an eye on developments in certain areas and keep our customers abreast of them. The safety of our travelers is our number one priority," he said at the forum.

All who took part in the discussion agreed on one thing: There is no one place in the world where tourist security is absolutely assured.

But for one section of the community, staying closer to home might be an attractive alternative. Klaus Wowereit, Berlin's openly gay mayor, was at the ITB marketing Berlin as a top gay destination. The Gay-Friendly Germany Guide, a new travel guide for gay and lesbian travelers, was launched at the fair on Monday.

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