First published in ITIJ 84, January 2008
With evidence of a growing demand for insurance for adventure breaks and trips to hazardous destination, do the British deserve a reputation for being a nation of brave travellers? Julia Horton has the answers
The sight of a burning Jeep crashing into Glasgow Airport this summer brought home the growing terrorism threat faced by travellers around the world with shocking force. But equally as incredible to many were the reactions of a handful of local people at the scene, who far from fleeing in panic, rushed in, determined to stop would-be suicide bombers from blowing up the terminal. Baggage handler John Smeaton became a minor celebrity thanks to his have-a-go hero response, which brought down one of the alleged terrorists.
While most people would probably remain far more likely to run for cover than fight back, Britons have a bit of a reputation for being braver than other nationalities when it comes to travelling. And that reputation was borne out by figures showing that in the month after the June 30 attack, Glasgow remained the busiest airport in Scotland with nearly a million passengers flying in and out. The only dip in numbers was said to be due to unavoidable cancellations for 20,000 passengers the day after the attack.
When it comes to travelling abroad, one of the clearest signs that Brits are increasingly undeterred by terror alerts is the growing number of travel insurance policies offering terrorism cover. Malcolm Tarling, spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers (ABI), says: “In the last couple of years, there has been an increase in the number of insurers that have included medical cover for people should they be injured in a terrorist incident, with over 60 per cent of travel insurance policies now providing that cover. It is a direct response to customer demand and the fact that terrorism now affects everyone. The risk is all around.”
Statistics from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) also show that Brits are travelling in huge numbers, with British nationals now making more than 60 million overseas trips every year. And the appetite for adventure often leads Brits into trouble. Thousands call on the FCO for help each summer after getting into difficulties overseas. A report released in August 2007 by the FCO revealed that between April 2005 and March 2006, some 1,368 Britons were arrested in the USA, 955 were hospitalised in Greece and 6,078 lost their passports in Spain. While these countries are not among those which the FCO warns Britons not to travel to, Spain has a long history of terrorism including deliberate attacks by ETA on tourists, which British people appear to be unfazed by.
The list of the top ten countries where Britons call on the FCO for consular assistance also includes India, which, while again a popular destination and relatively safe, is also among the countries where the FCO currently advises against travel to certain areas. There is no suggestion that Britons are deliberately ignoring FCO advice and travelling in hordes to dangerous locations, but the FCO believes that there is evidence that Brits are not making enough preparations for their ever more adventurous travels before they go.
At FirstAssist Services, a company specialising in rescuing Brits who get into trouble overseas, the most common calls for help in 2006 came from people holidaying in Spain, at 25 per cent, followed by France, Greece, Cyprus, America, Turkey, Thailand, Australia, Bulgaria and India. Such an apparent determination by British people not to be put off travelling by terrorism has also been noticed by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). ABTA believes that Britons have a more courageous attitude to the danger of being attacked because of their past experiences of terrorism on home soil during the notorious IRA campaign in the 1970s and 1980s.
"Britons have a reputation for being braver than other nationalities"
Frances Tuke, spokesperson at ABTA, says: “I think there does seem to be a pattern in that if a nation has suffered their own terrorism they are likely to be a little bit more brave about travelling to places that have had terrorism problems. I think that that is because once people have had a problem themselves they realise it’s important to support destinations that have suffered, within reason. We’re not all going to travel to Iraq, but if problems are sporadic and indiscriminate and everything to do with security is done then people will travel. People know you have just got to get on with your life and there’s no point in changing your plans to suit terrorists because then they’ve won.”
That explanation would also explain a marked difference in the travelling behaviour of Americans in recent times.
US fears limit numbers
Americans have long been renowned for being cautious travellers, due to their status as number one targets for terrorists around the world. But now, after coming under attack in their own country, they too are changing.
Ms Tuke says: “Post 9/11, a lot of Americans, who previously would not touch anywhere with a terrorist threat, were supportive of the UK when we had 7/7 and said they would still come here.”
In fact, the numbers of all foreign visitors to London stayed constant post 7/7. Interestingly, the only slight drop was among British people themselves, who made fewer domestic trips into London, suggesting that perhaps they are not any braver when under such a direct and recent attack.
At the centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrew’s University in Scotland, Professor Paul Wilkinson thinks that in general someone’s nationality has no bearing at all on their attitude to the terror threat. He says: “It is a mistake to generalise about nationalities. Individual differences in attitudes and experience are more important.”
However, he adds that Americans do have ‘good reason to be vigilant, because the USA is a top target for many groups’.
Although terrorism is arguably the most frightening risk to modern-day travellers, there are other dangers associated with holidaying around the world. As low-cost flights have taken off, people around the world are increasingly going further and further afield for their holidays.
Whether British people, as a cosmopolitan island race with a history of exploring the world, are more adventurous than people from other countries is debatable. Andrew Isherwood, spokesperson for FirstAssist Services says: “Evidence remains to be seen that suggests that Britons are any braver or adventurous than other travellers, though it is true to say that there are many insurers now offering specialised insurance to cover hazardous activities such as bungee jumping and diving. The incidence of activity-based holidays is also on the rise. [And] there is plenty of information available on the advisability, both from a medical and a security perspective, of travelling to certain countries.”
There is, however, evidence to suggest that the British are increasingly a nation of thrill seekers. Travel insurance specialist firm PJ Hayman has noticed growing demand among Brits for insurance to cover more risky trips, including its adventure policy for extreme activity breaks. Andrew Williams, spokesperson for PJ Hayman, says: “We’re certainly seeing an increase in sales of these specialist policies, which would indicate that people are taking more adventurous holidays which they need cover for.”
The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) also says that dangerous sports and hazardous locations are increasingly popular with Brits – especially among the older ‘gap’ generation. Graeme Trudgill, BIBA technical services manager, says: “We do see many retired people partaking in hazardous activities that were previously only enjoyed by younger people.”
The group wants to see greater coverage for Brits to insure against the risk of more extreme sports and dangerous destinations. It has long called for better coverage for the threat of terrorism, and has launched its own scheme offering such cover at no extra cost.
"the appetite for adventure often leads Brits into trouble"
Mr Trudgill adds: “We would like terrorism cover to be included on all travel policies, particularly for medical expenses and repatriation. The fact that only half of policies do is a concern. The availability of cheap flights now means that people are travelling to more exotic destinations than ever before, and therefore it is paramount that they have an appropriate policy that includes cover for terrorism and hazardous activities.”
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) was so concerned about the rise in the number of ‘adventurous over-50s’ getting into difficulties abroad that it recently launched a new advice book for older travellers with Lonely Planet, called World Wise.
Steve Jewitt-Fleet, from the Consular Communications Team at the FCO, says: “As we have noticed an increasing number of over-50s swapping relaxing holidays in Marbella for treks in the Himalayas, we would like to see more over-50s being better prepared for their trips to ensure they are fully covered for any eventuality.”
Back at ABTA, Ms Tuke believes the British attitude to travel is ultimately more about the way people have changed as consumers than about risk taking. She says: “I don’t think we’re danger seekers. I think we are realistic. We’re likely to go somewhere different and exotic, especially if it’s cheaper, such as Egypt where [because of the terrorism risk] security is very tight. In the past, in the 1970s, a lot of British people wanted to go abroad for some sunshine, now with the advent of the Internet and no frills airlines we have more choice and we’re more adventurous and more demanding. As consumers we have become more empowered.”