Fire won't deter tunnel travellers for long

It Will probably take Eurotunnel longer to remove the twisted wreckage from the Channel tunnel and restore a full service than it will for consumer confidence to return to the link, according to industry experts.

"When an accident happens, consumers naturally shy away from taking the next bus, train, plane or whatever. But it's not long before bookings return to normal or near-normal," said one travel industry executive, who like other industry figures contacted for this article did not want to be identified.

The initial impact on consumer behaviour can be spectacular, as it was in the case of the Herald of Free Enterprise, the P&O ferry that capsized off Zeebrugge with the loss of 187 lives in 1987. The following year cross- channel car traffic fell by 10 per cent, and coach traffic dropped by nearly a fifth, according to figures from the Port of Dover (see graph). But in 1989 consumers returned in much greater numbers, resuming the upward trend in cross-channel traffic.

Other modes of transport have proven more resilient, showing no evidence of decreased use, particularly if there is little in the way of an alternative. For instance, the number of passengers travelling on London Underground reached an all- time high in 1988, the year following the the King's Cross tube station fire in which 30 people died. Nor did the Clapham rail disaster deter people from using the railways - a record number took the train the following year.

Likewise, the crash of Pan Am 103 at Lockerbie in 1987 had little impact on the general transatlantic air travel market, which also showed increased usage the following year. However, the disaster - in which 270 people perished - caused Pan Am's bookings to drop by a quarter in the immediate aftermath although they returned to near-normal levels within months.

More recently, the Valujet crash in Florida caused bookings on similar low-cost carriers to fall by between 10 per cent and 20 per cent, and caused both Valujet and another small carrier, Kiwi Air, to seek bankruptcy protection.

"People don't lose confidence in the airline system itself, just elements of it," said one airline executive. "And they have very short memories." The executive added that if accidents involve little or no loss of life, they are forgotten even more quickly. "Everyone searches for closure in an accident, and if funerals, inquiries and compensation claims go on for years afterwards, they will only serve as reminders of the tragedy."

Travel industry experts agree that if consumers see an incident as an isolated case, and not part of a pattern, they will not alter their buying habits for long. But if a second or a third similar incident occurs, and a pattern starts to emerge, confidence in the product drains away.

In 1994, USAir encountered this problem when two of its planes crashed in different circumstances. After the first accident, bookings fell slightly; after the second, they fell much further.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Debt Collector - Multiple Roles

£21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Guru Careers: Financial Director / FD / Senior Finance Manager

Up to 70k DOE: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Financial Director ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Apprentice Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£11000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This financial company offer ma...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant

competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree: Did you know? 98% of our di...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen