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It's a small world


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It's been 15 years since two airliners were deliberately flown into New York's World Trade Center's Twin Towers in a terrorist attack that changed the fabric of life globally.

Just before those attacks, Tourism Whistler was getting ready to launch a new advertising campaign on the east coast of the U.S.

It was to be one of the first big investments targeting long-haul travellers in the New York area. At the time, the U.S. accounted for 38 per cent of Whistler's business in the winter and 35 per cent in the summer — a critical piece of the tourism pie (today those figures are 30 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively).

But when the towers collapsed, so did travel in the short term as the world entered a new reality where terrorism became part of the lexicon of vacation planning — 9/11 caused the first year of negative growth in the travel business for two decades.

Today, 15 years later, travellers routinely think about their vacation spots and weigh the risk of a terrorism attack. For the most part it appears that travellers are not letting terrorism dictate their plans, but there is no escaping the fact that tourism is a different beast than it was before 9/11.

This week, for example, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that the terrorist threat was at its "maximum" level and that France's security forces were "foiling attacks every single day."

France has been on high alert since January of 2015, when it was hit by a series of Islamic State-linked (IS) terrorist attacks.

The biggest loss of life took place in November of 2015, when at least 130 people were killed in Paris. A tragedy in Nice on July 14 of this year killed at least 84 people when a truck driven by an IS sympathizer plowed through crowds during Bastille Day celebrations.

But are travellers still travelling to Paris? Yes they are, but in smaller numbers.

In the years since the Twin Towers attack, which took the lives of nearly 3,000 in the initial attack, and thousands more due to cancers and respiratory illnesses linked the toxic debris of the collapsed Twin Towers and mental illnesses induced by the trauma of the event, the world has learned to live in uncertain times.

We have learned to live with thickened borders with the U.S., invasive travel security and an unprecedented level of invasion of our privacy.

This generation has watched the U.S. engage in the longest war that country has ever been involved in — one initiated because of the al-Qaeda attacks on the Twin Towers, and the world has watched as another faction rises, the Islamic State (IS), to wreak havoc on targets near and far.

It is easy to look out upon the awe-inspiring vista that is Whistler and dwell only in the peace that is our daily existence. But we don't have the luxury of doing that in today's world.

We have experienced another incredibly busy summer and while that has brought us headaches in the form of housing, transportation and staffing issues let's, for just a moment, imagine what life would be like if 9/11 and the war on terrorism were a bigger part of our tourism picture.

For France, that's a reality. In the first six months of 2016, one million fewer visitors visited Paris than the year before. The 6.4 per cent drop has cost $1.1 billion in lost revenue in just half a year.

In North America, we are more fortunate — perhaps because we are perceived as a safe destination. According to Destination Canada, a national marketing organization, tourism employment rose by about two per cent in the first quarter compared with last year, with gains in transportation, accommodation, food and beverage services, recreation and entertainment.

The number of foreign visitors coming to Canada from January to April this year increased by 15 per cent in comparison with 2015. Last year, the increase was just six per cent.

A record 14.2 million visitors visited Lower Manhattan in 2015, with the Downtown Alliance reporting that visits are up 14 per cent in 2016. Residential population has almost tripled to 62,000 since 9/11.

There has been a hotel boom too, with the construction of 28 hotels in lower Manhattan since the Twin Towers fell.

Still there is no talk about victory in the war on terrorism — no end in sight. Indeed IS has revealed itself as one of the most barbaric and horrifying groups in history.

And so let this 9/11 anniversary serve as a reminder that we do not operate in a vacuum.