Recent terror attacks in the UK have affected domestic family tourism but failed to deter international visitors, as 2017 saw record tourist levels, an industry boss has said.
Central London attractions saw a fall in numbers of around 17 per cent on average between May and the second week of September compared with 2016, according to Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).
During that time there were four terror attacks in the UK, three of which happened in the capital, killing more than 30 people.
Mr Donoghue said that young families were the largest group of those avoiding the capital’s zone one, saying: “These are parents under-35 with kids aged around seven, they have reacted significantly to the attacks.
“Because they weren’t brought up in the shadow of the UK and the IRA this is their first experience of domestic terror, while some of us who are older may take it in our stride and keep calm and carry on.
“But they are going elsewhere, places like Bath, Bristol, Oxford, instead.”
But 2017 has been a record year to date for visitors to the UK in general and London in particular, with growth set to continue for 2018, he added.
There were 30.2 million visits to the UK from overseas in the first nine months of the year, up 7 per cent on the same period in 2016, projected to reach 39.9 million by the end of the year, the latest Visit Britain figures show.
Visitor numbers from the US jumped by around 14 per cent thanks to “the way British emergency services dealt with the attacks, a lack of hysterical press reporting, and the draw of the weak pound”, Mr Donoghue said.
He added Alva research showed the public found safety barriers, bollards and bag searches at popular spots “really reassuring” in a way they would not have done five years ago.
Meanwhile, Tom Jenkins, chief executive of the European Tourism Association, said the public were rationalising the spate of attacks, realising they could happen anywhere.
He said: “The nature of free and open societies is people are vulnerable at any stage. It’s perfectly easy for anyone to grab an axe and start swinging.
“Terror used to be a major and sensational disruption to the travel industry. In the 1980s and early 1990s we saw mass cancellations, a real failure of nerve on an epic scale.”
Around half of holiday reservations from North America to Europe in 1986 were cancelled following America’s bombing of Libya, with travellers fearing reprisal attacks, he noted.
Mr Jenkins added: “Since then we’ve seen a gradual reduction in public concern, and a concomitant raising of government concern, with administrations engaging in ostentatious closing of doors in the aftermath of attacks.
“Regarding the bollards springing up, it’s all part of the decoration that reminds us terrorism works insofar as it conducts government spending and policy.
“The threat posed is almost certainly minimal, and fear would stop everyday life if we let it.”