After Belgium attacks, Canadians still plan European trips

Canadian travellers are concerned about recent attacks in Brussels and Paris, but that doesn't appear to be affecting their travel plans.

Travel agents report few cancellations in spite of recent bombings

Canadian travellers appear mostly undeterred from visiting Europe in spite of recent attacks in Belgium and France. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

Some Canadian travellers are concerned about terrorism in light of the recent airport and subway bombings that killed 31 people in Brussels, but most appear to be sticking with their plans to travel to Europe.

"I just refuse to let what's going on in Europe right now sway our plans," said Melissa from Milton, Ont., who asked not to be identified by her last name due to concerns about home security. Her family is planning a trip to Europe this summer, including a stay in Paris, where a series of attacks on Nov. 13, 2015 killed 130 people.

"I think it's just important to try and maintain some normalcy," said Melissa.

Still, Melissa said she plans to change the way her family travels, and is reconsidering their stay at the high-profile Novotel Hotel near the Eiffel Tower. Melissa still expects to use public transit in Paris, but said her family will take extra precautions.

"I think it's really important to get in and get out," said Melissa. "No loitering, no going to the airport and having lunch before we fly, no hanging out in subways and train terminals."

Melissa also plans to talk to her two teenage children about travelling safely and being aware of their surroundings, and she will keep an eye on travel advisories from the Canadian government, which currently advises travellers to France and Belgium to "exercise a high degree of caution due to the current elevated threat of terrorism."

Gordon Chapman, a physician from Saint John, N.B., is resolute about his upcoming trip to the U.K. and France.

"These things are totally unpredictable, and I feel very strongly that we shouldn't allow these wretches who want to terrorize people to destroy our lives and take away our freedoms," said Chapman.

Travel agents see few cancellations

Since Tuesday's attacks in Belgium, Canadian travel agents say they've seen few trip cancellations, if any.

"We haven't seen any decrease in Canadians travelling, we haven't had any cancellations, and our requests for bookings still remain quite high for Europe," said Nancy Barnard, the owner of Europa Travel in Newmarket, Ont., which specializes in European travel.

It is not an imagined risk, it's an actual risk.— Anthony Roman, counterterror analyst and CEO, Roman & Associates

John Cannon is a tour director with Liberation Tours, which offers guided tours of Canadian battlefields in Western Europe, including France and Belgium. He said one client recently cancelled a trip to Europe for a number of reasons, including uncertainty about security in Paris. Otherwise, Cannon said no one else has cancelled, even when specifically asked about safety concerns.

"No one seems to have any reluctance at all, which is heartening for us because we like to see people continue with their lives and carry on as normal," said Cannon.

Europe was shaken by a series of shootings and bombing attacks in downtown Paris on Nov. 13, 2015. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Mary Jane Hiebert, a manager at Canada One Travel in Winnipeg and chair of the board for the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, said none of her clients has cancelled following the attacks in Brussels and Paris.

"I don't think people are becoming complacent," said Hiebert. "I think they're becoming aware that sadly these things can happen anywhere, out of anyone's control, without notice, and how do you live accordingly?"

Hiebert also noted that cancelling international trips can be difficult and expensive. Some airlines allowed passengers travelling to or from Belgium to reschedule for no additional cost after the Brussels attacks, but only during a limited time.

Safety tips for travellers

It's not surprising that Canadians would continue travelling to Europe despite recent events, according to Anthony Roman, a New York-based counterterror analyst and CEO of Roman & Associates. Still, Roman said travellers should be vigilant.

"Today, in the context of the terror attacks and the new threat, clearly there's a heightened risk," said Roman. "It is not an imagined risk, it's an actual risk, so one's sense of safety should be heightened as well."

Attackers bombed Belgium's Zaventem airport on Tuesday, March 22. (Frederic Sierakowski/Reuters)

Roman offered safety tips for international travellers:

  • Research the risks at your destination.
  • Register with your country's embassy or consulate.
  • Have an emergency plan at your hotel, and be aware of the emergency exits.
  • Share your itinerary with a loved one and update them on any changes.
  • Carry emergency contact information.
  • Vary your routine from day to day.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, leave the area and tell the police.

In major European cities, Roman said he would avoid mass transit in favour of taxis. He said travellers should stay alert if they choose to take subways or buses.

"We all carry a very basic, primal instinct for survival, and we feel uncomfortable with certain circumstances," said Roman.

"That's an important element of our early personal warning system. We should listen to that. Pay attention to it, don't deny it, don't put it away."

Last August, a group of American tourists and a Briton subdued a gun-wielding attacker on a train from Amsterdam to Paris.


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