Gun Crime and Tourism – reality vs perceptions

There are some parts of the world where crime flourishes, and gun crime in particular. This article is not about the rights and wrongs of gun ownership, but the impact it has on international tourism which is vital for job and wealth creation in all participating destinations.

As an ex-pat living in the UK, I have read with keen interest the news coverage of recent events in South Africa. It has got me (and others), thinking. And talking. Is South Africa unique? Is it the only country in the world that suffers from high level’s of gun crime? Does it put off potential visitors? The UK in particular being such an important source market for international visitors to South Africa, I decided to consult professor Google to find international news reports on ‘gun crime and tourism’. This is what I found.

Headlines from around the world:

In the Philippines, a recent spate of armed robberies within city centre shopping malls has given a new meaning to the governments new tourism strapline; “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”

A masked gang that raped six Spanish women in Acapulco resulted in the mayor having to apologize for seeming to be more concerned with the reputation of his city than the crime itself.


A spate of unrelated murders in Thailand late last year where British tourists were shot – a total of seven killed since 2009.

There are regular reports of gun crime in the Caribbean and five foreign tourists killed since 2008.

Recent homicides just off the Strip in Las Vegas has rattled the tourism industry and a spokesman for Ceasars Palace is quoted as saying: “Had they taken place elsewhere, the incidents that made headlines in recent weeks would never have become national stories.’

I failed to find a news item of tourists being shot in the UK, but victims of crime there certainly have been, and reported locally as impacting tourism. The 2011 riots in London caused shock around the world, but did this stop visitors and corporates from travelling?

It is hard to find reliable statistics that show the long-term impact on inbound tourism where these sorts of violent incidents have occurred, which is in contrast to the widely available data and advisories around threats of civil unrest and/or terrorism.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Travel Advice for Thailand has plenty to say about parts of the country where not to travel because of the threat of civil unrest or terrorism, but only this to say about crime: Over 800,000 British nationals visit Thailand every year (Source: Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports). Most visits are trouble-free, although there have been a number of incidents of crime (sometimes violent) affecting visitors.

The FCO Travel Advice for South Africa is comprehensive and seems to cover a range of advice across a wide range of potential problems that travellers could encounter, but does not currently have any restrictions on travel to the country.

Some DMO’s respond quickly to reports of violent crime where tourists have been targeted and killed – by suggesting that visitors are able to differentiate between tourist attractions and crime hot-spots, often located away from tourist hubs.  Other DMO’s or NTO simply ignore the entire issue – perhaps they think it will go away?

Some countries try and smooth over the ruffled feathers: “Some people even avoid a trip to the USA for fear of a bullet. Don’t worry, you will find little danger. All cities have “good” and “bad” areas. Talk to locals to get an idea of where the “bad” areas are located and avoid them especially at night.”  Good advice from an American DMO?

My straw-pole amongst local friends (some work in the travel industry) would suggest that existing attitudes are simply re-enforced by news of violent crime; so amongst those who would never travel to South Africa, this simply reaffirms their decision. Amongst those that would, it will cause them to re-look at where they go and their behaviour whilst in the country.  It won’t stop them visiting.

“I knew already that it could be a problem and press coverage obviously reinforces that but hasn’t put me off…more because I think there’s so much I would love to see. And sooner or later some journos will write about the good stuff.”

It won’t put people off, as most well-informed visitors know there are good and bad places to go in any city anywhere in the world. So make sure you are talking to those with a propensity to travel, and reassuring them. Tackle the topic head on and don’t patronise them by pretending it’s all OK, when you know it’s not.

To conclude, focus resources on those market segments that are receptive to your product and destination. There is a big opportunity to suggest second-tier itineraries and products, wrapped in warm reassurance and objective story-telling.

What are your views?

3 thoughts on “Gun Crime and Tourism – reality vs perceptions

  1. I agree with the result of your straw-pole. I do think that generally speaking the S.A media could use a few lessons in responsible journalism. They tend to lean toward the sensational end of the scale.(think of the damage to tourism when the Dewani case broke)
    We have to accept that regardless of the reality, perception is what counts. This is why I believe that tourism is the job of everyone,talk and act in a manner that will bring perception and reality a little closer. All that said, this article has made me rethink some of my own perceptions of other destinations. Thanks for a thoughtful article

      1. Agreed. They seem to delight in denigrating S.A too, think World Cup 2010, Dewani again. They can do a lot more damage that they realise / or just dont care, to sell articles

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