Experts: Tourists Overreacting to Terrorist Threat

Americans who have rushed to cancel their European vacations because of fears about terrorism are overreacting, a panel of experts at the Kennedy School of Government said last night.

"I would rather walk around Athens airport waving an Israeli flag than walk around the Port Authority [bus station] in New York waving my wallet," William A. Davis, travel editor of The Boston Globe, told the audience of 37 at the K-School's IOP forum on "Terrorism and Tourism: Flying the Unfriendly Skies.

David Peresky, president of Crimson Travel Service, said the chances of an American being killed in Europe in a terrorist attack were "about equal to the chance of getting struck by lightning."

"If they've made us change our habits of travel, then they've accomplished some of their objectives, and that's unfortunate," said State Police Capt. Edward Cronin, head of security at Logan International Airport.

Asked to comment on the decision by the Collegium Musicum, a Harvard singing group, to cancel its tour of Britain (see story at right), moderator Edith Flynn, a professor at Northeastern University's College of Criminal Justice, said "they would have been perfectly all right." She said London's Heathrow Airport has very strong security.

Davis said it was "a particularly sad thing" that school and college groups were cancelling planned tours abroad. His only reason for not recommending a trip would be concern that "Mom will be an anorexic wreck" from worrying.

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Millions of Americans are expected to opt for domestic travel rather than going abroad. "An awful lot of Americans are staying home. Cape Cod is going to be jammed," Davis said.

Canada's Expo 86, which originally anticipated 13 million visitors, expects 7 million more as a result of terrorism fears, Davis said. "Instead of going to France, they'll visit the French pavilion" at the Expo, he said.

A February poll--two months before the U.S. bombed Libya in retaliation for terrorist attacks--showed that one third of American travellers had cancelled planned trips abroad, Peresky said. West Germany, which had expected over one million American tourists, will "be lucky to get 400,000," he said.

But the panelists predicted that the U.S.reaction may be a temporary phenomenon. "Ifthere's not another incident in the next two tofour weeks there will be a pickup in vacations toEurope," Peresky said.

Cronin said that airports, including Logan,have taken several steps to increase security,including more handchecking of luggage andincreased patrols in the "peripheral areas of theairport." But he warned that security at mostairports was "probably not sufficient to counter adedicated professional terrorist."

The panelists agreed that the American publicis not yet willing to accept the inconveniencecaused by more rigorous security measures such asthose used by El Al, the Israeli airline.

However, as the U.S. increases security at itsembassies abroad, tourists may be more vulnerableas terrorists turn to "soft targets" such asAmerican Express offices, Davis said.

Offering practical advice to several audiencemembers who said they still intended to travel toEurope, panelists cited Tel Aviv and Heathrow asthe safest airports and Athens and Frankfurt asthe least safe. They said Switzerland and theNetherlands were among the safest countries tovisit while Spain is to be avoided