January 17, 2012 | Attack on tourists in Ethiopia

On January 17, 2012 five foreign tourists were killed in Ethiopia in an attack by unknown gunmen in the northern Afar region.

Given that terrorists want to sew as much fear and damage as possible, what better target is there than tourists?

Tourism is big business. By one estimate, travel and tourism in 2018 was valued at $US 8.81 TRILLION dollars in direct and indirect contributions to the world economy. That is a lot of money.

Each country has its own particular set of attractions that drive its tourism industry. As a Canadian I know that many of my fellow Canucks love to go south in winter – usually late January or early February when many are sick and tired of the snow and the cold. A nice warm beach is just the tonic many seek.

Given the importance of travel and tourism to the economies of many countries it should surprise no one that governments care about their image. States want to attract tourists, not repel them after all.

So what happens when terrorists target tourists?

The impact of terrorist attacks on tourism can take multiple forms. Aside from the actual cost of destruction – it is hard to take new guests into a bombed out hotel – there is also the damage to a country’s reputation as fear takes hold of potential visitors. When the 2015 Bataclan Theatre attack occurred in Paris the British Columbia Francophone School Board cancelled a spring 2016 trip to Paris due to the state of emergency that ensued.

While we may argue with the logic behind this (why would a school cancel a planned trip that would not take place for months later?) such is the effect of anxiety and panic in the face of terrorism. Countries can try to show a brave face and claim to be safe but people vote with their wallets.

Ethiopia gunmen kill five foreign tourists in Afar

Even lands that are not normally associated with tourists can from attacks. On January 17, 2012 five foreign tourists were killed in Ethiopia in an attack by unknown gunmen in the northern Afar region. The visitors, from Germany, Belgium, Italy and Hungary, were touring a volcanic area described as ‘extremely hot and inhospitable’ when they were killed. Four others were kidnapped and spirited over the border to Eritrea.

Ethiopia blamed Eritrea, claiming that country ‘trained and armed’ the terrorists in yet another ‘usual terrorist activity’. Not surprisingly, Eritrea denied the accusation so we are left with he said/she said. The two nations have not gotten along since Eritrea split from Ethiopia in 1993.

The terrorists behind the attack were neither identified nor captured/killed. The consequences for tourism in Ethiopia may be hard to measure but nevertheless Ethiopia was named three years later by the European Council on Tourism and Trade as the ‘world’s best destination for tourism’.

Terrorists will continue to target tourists for the foreseeable future. While it is important to take precautions it is perhaps more important not to give any solace to those who are trying to change the way we live and the ways in which we enjoy ourselves.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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