Feel the fear and do it anyway: safety and security issues when booking travel

At the beginning of this year I was commissioned by the holiday company Travelzoo to conduct a global survey about people’s attitudes to safety and security on holiday. Do safety and security concerns have a big impact on where people choose to holiday? Do concerns vary from country to country? How informed are people about the level of risks in countries they plan to visit? Are such concerns growing because of recent terrorist attacks in holiday locations?

The results of the survey were shared with Professor Yeganeh Morakabati and her team at Bournemouth University. They blended the findings with their own academic research to produce the white paper: “State of Play: the impact of geopolitical events on international tourism in 2017”.

The white paper called for better clarity of information regarding the safety and security of tourism destinations. It called for such government information to be simplified, less open to interpretation and more readily shared by travel companies before customers book. It also called for a system of standardisation or certification
of safety and security for major tourism areas, such as hotels, resorts, restaurants, theatres and other venues.

Richard Singer, the President, Europe of Travelzoo launched the white paper during a session at the ITB conference in Berlin earlier this year. We’d consulted the ITB’s Dr Roland Conrady during the production of the research. The research findings, white paper and recommendation were a welcome addition to the ITBs conference, which had safety and security as its theme.

The debate that followed grabbed the headlines within the travel industry press.

You can read the white paper in full here and catch up with the industry debate here.

However, I’ve chosen to blog about the trends that I personally found interesting from the multi-country research.

The research was based on online research amongst people who had booked overseas travel online in the past. Countries covered were Russia, India, South Africa, USA, Japan, UK, Germany, France and China. The questionnaires were translated into local languages. 6,032 interviews were carried out across those nations.

The research was carried out very early in 2017 and, of course, the fieldwork time has a bearing. For example, Paris was seen as a more dangerous place to visit than London but then Paris had recently been hit by terrorism and the 2017 attacks on London had not yet taken place.

The research told us that safety and security is on the minds of over 90% of people in each country when they book travel. However, it is most ‘front of mind’ for the Russians, Indians and South Africans. In these countries people are worried about a greater range of safety and security issues, from disease to crime to war. Compare that to France and the UK where concerns are less ‘front of mind’ and mainly about terrorism.

It means the French and British are conducting only light-touch checks on regions before holidaying there (a simple internet search suffices for many) but Russians, Indians and South Africans are turning to far more sources (they’re far more likely to check crime rates, for example).

In all countries at least three in five people said safety and security was more of a concern than ever these days. They feel the world has become more dangerous and this wasn’t a view only held by older age groups; the young feel it too.

Terrorism is the biggest fear in all countries (in South Africa terrorism is a major fear but less distinct from other worries like crime in general).

However, the fear isn’t deterring them from the idea of travelling abroad (or so they say). For example, only 4% of Americans (who had booked foreign travel online before) said they wouldn’t book a foreign holiday now because of fear. However, 24% of these Americans said they are concerned about the risk they are taking (the largest proportion compared to other nationalities – but then the Americans felt like the most targeted by terrorists abroad). They’re feeling the fear but doing it anyway.

So, yes people are concerned and increasingly so. However, it was interesting to test the role that price plays. We did that by asking the following question:

Imagine you have a choice between two holidays, both of which are equally appealing to you. One is in a country that you feel is absolutely safe. The other is in a country you believe has a small risk of [insert risk]. Would you choose the holiday with a small risk if the holiday were £100 [or local currency equivalent] cheaper per person?

Although we tested many levels of savings (up to £1,000), the first level of £100 had many saying ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ to risk. Risk of disease was most likely to deter bargain hunters and natural disasters put the least off. Despite terrorism being the biggest concern people are surprisingly likely to risk it for a saving. This is perhaps because terrorism can theoretically strike anywhere and incidence levels and casualty rates aren’t high.

It implies that, yes; they’re feeling the fear and doing it anyway but especially when there’s a small bargain to be had.

In another experiment respondents were asked if they would stay at a resort hit by terrorism in the past, assuming the package was, in all other respects, a good deal. In this scenario people said they were more likely to stay at a resort hit by terrorism ten years ago than one year ago. Time heals, to a degree.

However, the Japanese were the least likely to want to stay at such a resort, even one hit ten years ago. In fact, a larger percentage of Brits (23%) would consider a place hit by terrorism a year ago than Japanese (16%) who would consider a resort hit ten years ago. These are cultural differences, of course. The Indians were the least put off by resorts that had been hit by terror attacks.

Altogether the research painted a picture of consumers concerned about safety and security at a time of global insecurity. It is heartening that such concerns aren’t dissuading them fully from international holidaymaking. In fact, the extent to which people are tempted by good deals in affected areas is a measure of human resilience. However, measures like those suggested by Travelzoo and Bournemouth University can only make people better informed about the risks involved – a good thing, surely, in troubled times.

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