By Celece Seegmiller for The Spectrum Newspaper, December 20, 2015
For a few weeks now, I‘ve wanted to address a question I receive on a daily basis: “Is it safe to travel to Europe?” Last week, I received an email from Insight Vacations with a link to their blog. The post was from John Boulding, CEO of Insight Vacations and it seemed to “hit the nail on the head” with his point of view. As soon as I finished reading the blog, I asked for permission to share it in my column this week as he summarized everything I’ve wanted to say:
So, I’m on a plane to Asia, headed there to meet our Singapore team and top travel agents from Singapore and Manila. It’s a thrilling opportunity and I’m lucky to work in the travel business – although my typical schedule of just one night in every city is an itinerary I would never allow Insight tours to follow. Our guests deserve a far more leisurely schedule! Anyhow, meeting customers and agents face-to-face is undoubtedly a great opportunity. I love to get feedback at every level across the business and direct from our guests is the most important by far.
Apart from introducing our amazing new vacations, of all the conversations I’ve been having, perspective is a reoccurring theme. Lately, it seems it always coming back to one thing, the dramatic stories portrayed by the news media. If you were to take what you see on CNN or Sky News at face value, then it could appear that Europe is falling apart at the seams. 2015 might seem to have been a year of non-stop crises? Unless you actually live in Europe, or travel there very regularly, it is difficult to put things in perspective, because what you are seeing on TV or in the press is extremely narrow view reporting. Inevitably bad news sells, so that’s what you get. Let’s take the ‘migrant crisis’… Along with every caring individual and organization, Insight and our worldwide team are saddened for the migrants as they cross Europe. Undoubtedly they suffer hardships. The numbers seem huge and the coverage by media is extensive; but to understand it properly we must put it into context, and this means understanding scale. Europe’s population is a half billion people so while the migrant numbers amount to about 800,000 in 2015, comparatively the volume is not that great. Consider that a one-day music concert can reach similar numbers: The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park in 1969 had 500,000 fans attend; the New York Philharmonic in Central Park in 1986 attracted 800,000; Rod Stewart, bless his heart, at Copacabana Beach in 1994 managed to achieve the all-time number one spot at 3,500,000 attendees!
Despite the ‘crisis’ we carry on as normal. Our Tour Directors are experts and we have the backup of hundreds of staff in Europe. On an Insight holiday we take care of everything. We are highly flexible, nimble and unconstrained by routing. We carry 100,000 guests a year to Europe and not once have our itineraries been interrupted, curtailed or disadvantaged by the migrant crisis.
So let’s look the elephant in the room in the eye. Paris. When I’m talking with travelers from America, Canada, Asia and around the world during my travels, they often ask me, a European, should they be concerned about the risks of visiting Europe at this time. My answer is simple: let’s properly understand ‘the risk’ vs. ‘the fear’. What you have been watching is 24/7 news coverage of each incident in a highly localized fashion. As with the migrants, the cameras are literally following the action in particular streets or location. Let’s again look at this in context: in Paris, terribly sadly, 130 people lost their lives. This is awful but, remember, Europe has a population of 500,000,000. In the USA, there are 30,000 gun deaths a year, about 100 each day, against a population of just 350,000,000.
Insight had a group in Paris just five days after the incident and they visited the city without experiencing any curtailment of their planned experiences and activities. They dined first evening at a famous restaurant on the left bank, they visited the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, they went to the Moulin Rouge and enjoyed the illuminations. They were welcomed by Parisians at every stage. These pictures from that trip attest. Yes, security was high and of course we take good care of you – but that’s a good thing isn’t it!
My honest view is don’t let the numbers persuade you to take the situation out of context. Terrorism is terrible and it is everywhere today, it’s part of our lives, even at home. But the risks are not what they might seem. I certainly won’t curtail my travel plans and I suggest you might want to do the same! I was encouraged on my travels in the USA last week by the positive reaction of so many people. Many thanked me for sharing these perspectives and most shared the view that it wouldn’t put them off their once in a lifetime trip to Europe during 2016. Cheers to that. Bon Voyage!
At The Travel Connection, we’ve had mixed feelings from our clients. While there have been a few cancellations, more of our customers seem to agree with John Boulding. One of them said, “I am going and I will not let them win with terror”. I would never encourage anyone to travel where they felt unsafe just for the sake of making a sale. However, I do encourage everyone to do their own research based on facts and make a decision based on their own findings. One more thing to consider, our area relies heavily on tourism from Europe and Asia. I often wonder if they read the headlines about the mass shootings in the United States and decide to cancel their vacations to Utah – I certainly hope not.