Should travelers feel different about vacationing in Spain or Europe in light of the March 11 attacks? Here are some travel specialists' answers to questions that may be on the...
Should travelers feel different about vacationing in Spain or Europe in light of the March 11 attacks? Here are some travel specialists’ answers to questions that may be on the minds of travelers contemplating a spring or summer trip.
Q: I have plans to travel to Spain, but should I go to a different country in Europe? Will I be safer in a country that isn’t a strong U.S. ally?
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A: Because it appears that Islamic terrorists, rather than Basque separatists, are responsible for the March 11 attacks, Spain is probably no more or less likely than any other Western European country to be the subject of another attack. Bruce McIndoe, CEO of iJet Travel Risk Management, an Annapolis, Md., company that provides travel-risk services for corporations and individuals, said Spain might even be a bit safer because it has already incurred an attack. McIndoe said risks of a terrorist strike may be slightly higher in countries that are allies of the United States, such as the United Kingdom and Italy, but added that those countries “have already substantially raised their security posture.”
Q: What are Spain and other countries in Europe doing to increase security?
A: Since the Madrid attack, several countries, including France and Poland, have increased security at airports, train stations and other sites. Greece, which will host the Olympics in August, and Portugal, which will host the European soccer finals in June, have also heightened transportation security. The United Kingdom is taking a closer look at security.
Travelers should be ready to face longer lines and closer scrutiny at airports and train stations throughout Europe this summer.
Q: What about other American travelers? Are people canceling their trips?
A: That’s difficult to say, because there is only anecdotal information at this point. Nora Brossard, a spokeswoman for the European Travel Commission (ETC), said in an e-mail, “It’s too soon to call the situation. I can tell you that we have been anticipating a spring/summer rebound in travel from pent-up demand, and have seen nothing yet to negate that. We have had no reports of cancellations.”
Before the attacks, all indications pointed to more Americans traveling to Europe this year. Last year, there were 10.8 million U.S. travelers to Europe, according to ETC statistics a 2 percent increase over 2002. Passport applications were up 13 percent between October 2003 and February, according to the U.S. State Department, suggesting more international travel by Americans.
Since the attacks, however, there are indications that travel to at least Spain may dip for a time. David Cumpston, spokesman for SideStep.com, an Internet travel-booking search engine, said that since March 11, airfare searches for Madrid have dropped by 15 percent. London and Paris continue to be its most popular international destinations.
But Melissa Derry, a product manager for Expedia.com, said Spain has become the No. 1 travel destination for travelers to Europe who book through Expedia, adding, “Every indication is that it will remain a hot destination.”
Q: Am I safer traveling by plane or rental car than by train?
A: Fatality rates for plane and rail travel are similar, but don’t take to the roads, since high car-accident rates far outweigh the terrorist threat. The European Environment Agency, an agency of the European Union, estimates that 110 people are killed daily on European roads. As for rail fatalities, in 1997, the last year that EU-wide data are available, 117 people were killed in 12 European countries. In 2001, 151 people died within EU countries in plane crashes.
McIndoe warned that Americans may be at even more risk when driving in Europe because of an unfamiliarity with the roads, road signs in foreign languages and, in countries such as the United Kingdom, driving on the opposite side of the road.
Q: How can I protect my travel investment in case there are more attacks or I get cold feet?
A: Purchase travel insurance that has broad terrorism coverage. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, most travel insurance companies have added enhanced terrorism coverage. But not all policies offer the same coverage. Peter Evans, executive vice president of Insuremytrip.com, which offers travel insurance from 14 companies, said, “It is critical for a consumer to examine the exact language in regards to terrorism coverage. It is not one size fits all.”
Most policies reimburse if the terrorist incident occurs in a foreign destination within 30 days prior to departure. But after that, all bets are off. Some companies, such as TravelSafe, also cover terrorist acts that occur in your departure city. Some, including Travel Insured and TravelSafe, require that you purchase your insurance within a certain time period after you make your first trip payment to receive terrorism coverage. Access America won’t cover a destination that was the subject of a terrorist attack within the prior six months, but it does cover domestic destinations, while most companies cover only foreign spots. Travelex won’t cover the intentional release of biological material.
If you are booking with a tour group, get a written copy of its cancellation policies and read it. Some tour operators, such as Trafalgar Tours, offer more liberal cancellation refund policies if you buy the company’s insurance plan. But it’s almost unheard-of to find a travel provider that offers 100 percent cash refunds without several months’ notice if you have a change of heart.
Q: What can I do to minimize my risks of being targeted?
A: Stay up-to-date with travel warnings and advisories. There is no U.S. State Department warning for Spain, although its public announcement on Spain (see www.travel.state.gov) issued after the attacks and set to expire June 11, says, “U.S. citizens in Spain are encouraged to remain alert and avoid large crowds when possible.”
Other sources to examine include the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk), and the private security company iJet’s Web site, www.travelriskcenter.com, which lists links to dozens of sites that deal with travel security, including government sites for many countries.
Q: So put things in perspective for me. What are my odds of being killed or wounded in a terrorist attack?
A: There is a lot of evidence that proves your chance of dying at the hands of terrorists is very, very slight. McIndoe, using data from the Statistical Assessment Service, a nonprofit group affiliated with the Center for Media & Public Affairs, has calculated these one-year historical odds for an average American:
Dying in an automobile accident: 1 in 18,800.
Dying in a lightning strike: 1 in 4.2 million.
Dying in a commercial airliner: 1 in 8.4 million.
Dying in a terrorist attack: 1 in 9.2 million.