Simon Calder: 'Surrender our wanderlust and evil will have won'


As with Luxor, Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh, so with Dahab: the damage from yesterday's attack spreads far wider than the innocent victims and their families. This act of mass murder was, like the other massacres before it, aimed at wrecking the industry of human happiness that tourism should represent.

This time the soft targets were different: backpackers, who are harder for terrorists to pin down. Budget travellers tend not to stay in large hotels where mayhem can be maximised, and are likely to infiltrate - and contribute financially towards - the local community. They are, though, like all tourists, profoundly vulnerable in a strange land, in a relaxed frame of mind, and easily marked out as outsiders. And because, increasingly, many terrorist groups understand that killing tourists can destroy much more than the immediate victims.

After the Luxor attack in 1997, in which 58 tourists were wiped out, package tourism from Britain to Egypt dropped by four-fifths. It took five years for numbers to recover - except for the backpacking community. Travellers with Lonely Planet books and Rough Guides continue to seek travel perfection in Dahab. With its easygoing atmosphere and manifold opportunities for hedonism, it was in many senses the last resort. While package holiday companies moved customers elsewhere, budget travellers remained resilient - and hundreds of Egyptian workers continued to feed their families with cash spent by backpackers.

The Egyptian survivors of yesterday's attack face a bleak future. The authorities will ratchet up security still further, turning popular resorts into sunny versions of Belfast and Londonderry at the height of the Troubles. Western governments will stop short of urging their citizens to avoid Egypt (diplomatically, the country is too important), while independent travellers and package tourists will naturally be assessing their options.

The topic for discussion over breakfast in classic backpacker haunts from Goa to Guatemala will be "is anywhere safe?". Here in Britain a parallel conversation will take place over the breakfast table between parents worried about the safety of their travelling offspring.

The answer, as it has been for decades, remains the same: travelling almost anywhere is likely to be an enlightening, wholesome and life-enhancing experience. Once the heartbreaking business of bringing home the bodies and mourning the dead of Dahab is over, another tragedy must be averted. We must never lose the will to travel to spread wealth to less fortunate parts of the world, and to understand a little more about the wonderful diversity of the planet. Surrender our wanderlust, and we will have given in to evil.

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