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.

7 thoughts on “Did Terrorism Actually Affect American Travel to Europe…..and Should It?”

  1. I agree that the more you know the better you can prepare for whatever may come up. I think that being aware of things that go on around the world and know the possible threats is in our benefit after all. It doesn’t hurt to stay informed, but we shouldn’t exaggerate the risk. I actually read a book recently (Small guide to safe travel) that digs in into this exact matter. Has some pretty useful advice also.
    In any case, not traveling at all cannot be a solution, we should rather stay informed and keep some peace of mind when abroad.

  2. Travels are the symbols of a secure place.Every govt and people and travelers need to understand that if we cancel the trip for the fear of terrorist then the terrorist mind will become more strong.

  3. I think for only the cause of terrorism people should not stop travel to any places, because this can be a effective point for the terrorist.

  4. I’ve just been through Turkey; it was near empty of international tourists. It had particularly been affected by Russia banning tours after one of their warplanes was shot down, and by the bombing of German tourists near the Blue Mosque in January(?). Those two countries are a huge proportion of visitors to Turkey.

    Then a few weeks before my arrival we further had the attempted coup.

    Not going to lie, I was happy with no crowds. But there were a lot of locals struggling with the marked drop in income.

  5. I went to Italy last year and had no concerns whatsoever. However, my son and his mom are going this year to Europe and I’m a little more nervous. Maybe it’s just the parent in me. But your comparisons to the number of auto fatalities helped put it back in perspective. Of course, now I’m worried about their bus driver! :)

  6. Gary,

    It would be interesting to see actually data, rather than anecdotes, regarding a decline in travel to Europe immediately after and in the months following 9/11.

    My wife and I had been scheduled to fly to Milan on the Saturday after 9/11 (a Tuesday). It wasn’t until the morning of that Saturday that we could confirm that our flight was a “go” (it actually departed a few hours late). During those four days, my wife and I debated whether to make the trip. We finally decided that if the flight went we would go.

    But I knew people who cancelled planned trips, and while we were in Italy, we learned that many Americans did the same. Cruise ships that should have called at Venice didn’t, because passengers who had booked cabins backed out. Shop owners in Tuscany complained that Americans, upon whom they relied heavily to buy expensive souvenirs, decided to stay at home.

    For about a year or so, flights I took within the U.S. flew with many empty seats. Airports were uncrowded. It seemed to take two to three years before air travel returned to normal.

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