Did Terrorism Actually Affect American Travel to Europe…..and Should It?

A few weeks ago I flew through the Istanbul Airport on the way to Kazakhstan, just a few days after the recent terrorist attack which took place there.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware of the recent attacks, but at the same time, had I not heard about the events on the news, I never would have known that anything had happened.

The recent attacks in Istanbul are just the latest in a series of attacks that have targeted Europe this year. France has been subject to several major attacks, as has Belgium. Lesser attacks with attribution to terrorist groups have happened in Germany, and there have been several other plots that have been foiled.

This has forced many people to rethink their travel plans and start to question if they should be traveling to Europe.

The Data

Allianz Travel Insurance recently released its Vacation Confidence Index, which documented Americans’ attitudes toward terrorism and their travel planning. They found the following:

  • 86% are concerned about terrorists attacks while on vacation abroad
  • 22% say that the threat of terrorism has influenced their travel plans
  • 6% have cancelled trips
  • 5% have changed locations
  • 4% have changed dates
  • 3% have changed accommodations
  • 3% have changed modes of transportation
  • 3% have purchased travel insurance

The data seems to indicate that a significant, but not an overwhelming number of people have been shaken enough by recent events to change their travel plans to some extent. However, it doesn’t mean that people are abandoning travel.

The data of actual trips taken seems to confirm to some extent what the survey suggested. In a previous survey done by Allianz where they looked at the travel booking by Americans for the summer of 2016 showed the following:

  • Trips to Istanbul are down 43.7% from 2015
  • Trips to Brussels are down 30.4%
  • Trips to Frankfurt are down 22.9%
  • Paris saw a 0.6% increase
  • Dublin, Athens, Amsterdam and Lisbon all saw increases of over 40%
  • Europe as a whole saw a 9.3 percent increase

The data is very interesting on several levels. First, travel to Europe overall increased. I have no doubt that it would have been higher absent the terror attacks, I have to believe that the strong dollar was a stronger pull than the threat of terrorism was a push. Second, people seem to be able to differentiate between cities and countries in Europe, and not painting with a broad brush. The biggest drops in travel are in cities which have seen recent terrorist attacks. Surprisingly, Frankfurt saw a decrease in travel, even though there had been no terrorist attacks in the city in over 5 years.

The cities which saw large increases in travelers were those who have been absent from the headlines.

Should You Be Concerned About Terrorism?

All of this really begs the question, should travelers be concerned about terrorism? While it is clearly impacting travel decisions, that doesn’t mean that the decision is rational.

First, I don’t blame people for being concerned. As I mentioned above, when I was in the Istanbul airport, the thought crept through my mind. The threat of terrorism isn’t zero. It clearly is something that can happen, and to that extent should at least be on your radar.

The threat of being a victim of a terrorist attack is exceedingly small. Concerns about it are amplified because we see it on the news. The more we hear about terrorist attacks, the more worried we get. We forget, however, that we are likely to hear about every terrorist attack, whereas most other dangers to travelers are never reported at all.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and the Responses to Terrorism reported the following data regarding Americans who were killed by acts of terrorism abroad. The numbers are startling. Just to pick an arbitrary date, I’ll use data since 2007 which is when I started traveling full-time:

  • 2007: 1
  • 2008: 12
  • 2009: 1
  • 2010: 2
  • 2011: 3
  • 2012: 5
  • 2013: 6
  • 2014: 14

(Note: to get US fatalities overseas, just subtract the total number of fatalities by the number in the US)

Over the last decade on average 5.5 Americans we’re killed by terrorist attacks each year outside of the United States.

To put that into perspective, from 2003 to 2010, 1,820 Americans died in traffic accidents outside of the United States. That averages out to 1 American being killed every 36 hours in a traffic accident, and it represents close to a third of all overseas deaths.

While the data in this case is specific to Americans, it applies the same to other foreign travelers. Terrorism as a threat to travelers is dwarfed by traffic accidents, yet most people do not have a fear or traffic accidents, nor will they take that into consideration when making travel plans.


While terrorism is something you should be aware of, it is far down the list of actual threats to travelers. 32.3 million people visit Paris every year and even with recent terrorist attacks, your odds of being a victim are on a par with winning the lottery.

To be sure you should take safety precautions anywhere you travel, but you shouldn’t let the threat of terrorism ruin your vacation. I suggest doing the following:

  1. Take what the media says with a big grain of salt. Terrorist attacks are tragic events. There is no doubt about that. However, don’t let the 24 hour news cycle determine your thinking. Fear sells, because fear causes people to buy newspapers and watch TV news.
  2. Put risks into perspective. The more you understand the data and the real threats, the better decisions you will make. Worrying about ISIS will do less for your safety than picking a taxi which is safe and in good condition.
  3. Use common sense. Terrorists tend to attack crowded places. One of my big travel rules is to avoid nightclubs and other crowded places. This has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with pickpockets, scams, fires and getting drugged. Nonetheless, the things which can keep you safe generally on the road will help you to decrease your risk of being in a terrorist attack.

Disclaimer: I work as an ambassador for Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and receive financial compensation.