Kate Simon: Terror bombs are a bigger threat than shark attacks
Sunday 12 December 2010
Would you feel safe going back into the waters off Sharm el-Sheikh?
Plenty of us probably wouldn't fancy venturing a toe into the Red Sea at the moment, following the recent shark attacks which culminated in the death of a German tourist last week.
And the actions of the Egyptian authorities have hardly served to reassure the holidaymaker of a nervous disposition. They claimed to have found and destroyed the sharks suspected of making the attacks more than a week ago and had lifted a 48-hour ban on entering the water the day before the tragedy happened.
At the time of going to press, the debate was rumbling on about whether one or more sharks have turned aggressive man-eater and why. The beast(s) will probably be caught at some point and the situation resolved, but what will be the effect on the Egyptian resort, which welcomes more than half a million tourists each year from Britain and is one of our favourite winter hot spots? Won't these horrific events see us fleeing its beaches?
Probably not, says Sean Tipton of Abta, the trade body for Britain's travel agencies and tour operators. "We've had reports of members receiving worried calls from the public," he confirms, but he doesn't believe that means the Egyptian resort will be reeling from these tragic events for long. "I don't think Sharm will feel a major impact because winter sun, rather than diving, is now its biggest market," he says.
According to Mr Tipton, the aftermath of such a shocking event on a resort is usually short-lived, so long as the problem is solved and isn't endemic. Plus, the public's memory about such things is very short.
"Health scares have much more of an impact," he adds. "During Sars [severe acute respiratory syndrome], people were terrified of going to the Far East, even though there was minimal chance of them catching the disease. It was the same with an outbreak of avian flu in Turkey – despite it happening about 500 miles from the coastal resorts."
The news will be a blow to the tour operators selling Red Sea diving holidays – Sharm built its tourism industry on its teeming coral reefs. For those companies, the after-effects could be longer lasting. Hence, affected Abta members immediately responded with a damage-limitation exercise – while the ban on diving in the area remained in force, they pledged to offer a change of destination or a refund to anyone who had booked a diving holiday there.
Sharm wasn't alone in experiencing tragedy last week. Another popular destination was hit by a bomb attack last Tuesday. The blast on the shores of the River Ganges in Varanasi, one of India's most important holy cities, killed a baby and injured at least 34 pilgrims and tourists attending evening prayers. The blast was so powerful it is said to have damaged stone walls up to 200 feet away. The authorities put it down to terrorists.
A shark in Sharm el-Sheikh is a shocker straight out of our collective Jaws nightmare, and would always be the bigger story in the eyes of the media. The irony is that more of us are at real risk from the kind of random violence that took place in Varanasi – but weve become inured to threats of terrorism, so we'll probably take that one in our stride.
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