The Sousse beach resort attack on the 26th June 2015 in Tunisia showed yet again that the tourism sector remains a target for terrorism. There are many reasons why terrorists elect to target tourism. The sector is very sensitive to insecurity. For countries where tourism is a staple of the economy, even small attacks can have a sudden social and economic impact.
Apart from severely damaging the job security and income of the local population, it can potentially damage the legitimacy and authority of the government.
Attacks on foreign tourists guarantee international media exposure. Through the terrorist narrative, attacks are often carried out as a means of pushing out foreign influence, while seemingly avoiding harming locals and eliminating support. The Sousse gunman specifically targeting foreigners backs up this type of thinking. Overall, attacks like these are supposed to keep countries isolated and create the kind of insecurity where extremism can thrive.
The Tunisian attack brings up important questions about how the tourism and hospitality sector manages threats and assesses terrorism risks. Typically the decision-making is made against foreign government advice. Before the Sousse attack, but after the 18th March attack in Tunis, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) stated that there was a ‘high’ threat of terrorism. It advised travellers to stay vigilant and follow the advice of the Tunisian security authorities and their tour operator.
But it’s not always that simple. As independent travel increases, there’s usually not a single tour operator responsible for travellers’ wellbeing. But where there is, the Foreign Office advice displays the responsibility, trust and expectations fixed on the tourism industry by government and customers to manage risk to customers adequately.
Of course it is extremely difficult to defend against a planned armed attack like that in Sousse. Although operators depend upon the authorities for consistent security, there are many measures companies should take to reduce their exposure to attacks, and minimise the impact if they are targeted.
Appropriate security measures, reduction and crisis planning always start with effective intelligence analysis, data, hard facts, and objective threat assessments.
In terms of learning from the attack, companies in the tourism industry and businesses overall need to realise that relying on travel advice alone is simply not good enough. Travel advice is for travellers and not businesses that carry many exposures and liabilities. It is essential for companies to take proactive and threat-based approaches to risk management and crisis planning. This means accepting ownership of risk, maintaining acceptable capacity and planning to respond to crises should they occur.
By effectively managing their security risks, businesses will keep both their staff and their customers safer, as well as create opportunity and protecting their assets. Effective threat assessments aren’t just supposed to increase security, suspended operations or close a business, but they can also give affirmation to proceed, enable business to continue with confidence, ensure satisfactory insurance cover, and give the thumbs up to enter or re-enter markets when threats have decreased.
The Harnser Groups are experts in providing risk advice and engineering design services across all industries that are exposed to threats at all levels in any location.