Trvael: How to be a tourist, not a terrorist's target

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The Independent Online
Only journalists and the mentally unstable would ever wish to visit nations engaged in full-scale civil war. But this week the front line moved frighteningly closer to the tourist. Simon Calder reports on where travellers are most at risk.

Last Monday was the bloodiest day in a campaign by Islamic extremists against tourists to Egypt. By the end of this winter's high season, the terrorists will be seen to have "won" the battle to wound the Egyptian economy. If, as seems possible, the 3.6 million people who usually visit the country each year is cut to one-sixth, then 5 per cent of the country's gross domestic product will be wiped out.

These are the cold figures concealing the dozens of individual tragedies arising from the massacre in Luxor. Some have said that tourists should not give the terrorists the "oxygen of publicity", and that tourism to Egypt should continue as normal.

In a perfectly collective world there would be merit in this argument, since one terrifyingly inevitable consequence of this week's attack will be to inspire other terrorist groups around the world to target tourists. But choosing a holiday should never be a matter of life and death; repeated, highly targeted attacks on foreign tourists in Egypt suggest that there is a small but tangible risk of visiting the country.

Politically, attacking foreign visitors brings world attention to bear on a cause; economically, scaring away potential visitors can maim an economy. Tourists are being used as pawns in wider political struggles.


Following the collapse of Cuba's economic patron, the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro seized upon tourism as the way to escape from the economic abyss. Remarkably, this policy appeared to be succeeding - which made the tourist industry a natural target for opponents to the regime, of whom there are many.

The safest country in the Caribbean has, in the past two years, become the target of attacks on hotels and other tourist installations. An Italian tourist died earlier this year in a bomb attack on a Havana hotel. The perpetrators are believed to come from among the more shadowy anti-Castro Cuban exiles based in Florida.


The campaign by Islamic extremists against tourists began five years ago, and has become increasingly sophisticated. Monday's attack seems to have been timed to coincide with the opening of the World Travel Market in London, the world's largest travel industry gathering. Most attacks have been on clearly identifiable targets, such as tourist minibuses. It may, therefore, be safer to travel independently, using public transport.


The Shining Path, a Maoist guerrilla organisation, started the tourists- as-targets ball rolling in the Eighties, when it declared a policy of killing foreign visitors. Two British visitors were murdered in the Huallaga Valley by terrorists. But in the 17 years of conflict, fewer visitors have died here than in Florida in a single year.

Sri Lanka

In 1982, 400,000 tourists visited the island. The country then plunged into a long and bloody civil war, waged between the government and the Tamil Tigers, and it took 12 years before that number of visitors was equalled - when growth figures elsewhere in the region would suggest a 50 per cent increase.

Hotels have occasionally been targeted, but the main threat has been of being caught up in huge bombings in the capital, Colombo.

Parts of the island are still out of bounds except to the foolhardy, but much of it is unblemished and uncrowded.


A British tourist was killed in the southern resort of Marmaris in 1994, a victim of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) campaign of targeting tourists in Istanbul and Mediterranean resort areas as part of its campaign for a separate Kurdish state in south-east Turkey.

For official Foreign Office warnings, contact the Travel Advice Unit on 0171-238 4503 or 4504, or fax 0171-238 4545; on the Internet, at or on BBC-2 Ceefax from page 470 onwards.