A cursory review of 2023, looking at the impact of various events on travel, brings to mind a handful of major topics: Russia’s ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine, Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel on 7 October and Israel’s subsequent military response, as well as the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Morocco and the fires on Rhodes.
Our 2024 Travel Risk Outlook naturally cannot ignore the two major conflicts mentioned above, but also takes a look at other flashpoints that have not received the necessary public attention in 2023 and have the potential to continue to gain importance in the future.
What was intended to be the Russian version of a blitzkrieg will soon enter its third year. It is to be feared that the war between Russia and Ukraine could be largely frozen along the current front lines, as neither party has the necessary strength in terms of weapons and manpower to achieve a victory, however that may be defined. The 2024 election year in the USA, which we are examining more from the perspective of a further advance of right-wing populist movements and the impact on the stability of democratic institutions, will, however, have a direct impact on the above-mentioned conflict. It is already clear that the “America First!” approach of the majority of the Republican Party is undermining US military support for Ukraine. An election victory for Donald Trump would more than jeopardise the massive support for Kiev, especially if, against the backdrop of fiscal restraint, the question were to be whether to choose between supporting Israel or Ukraine.
The first cracks can now be observed in the West’s support for Israel, the intensity of which has to do with the duration and severity of Israel’s response to the terrorist attacks. An end to the military conflict will most likely shift the tensions between Israelis – in particular the settler movement – and Palestinians to a societal level. The medium-term effects of the conflict on Israeli society, which was strongly divided before 7 October – keyword: judicial reform –, whether Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist government will resign and, if so, who will follow and with what orientation, are completely unpredictable. Whether the two-state solution can be resumed in the medium term or, like Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, continues to focus exclusively on rapprochement with the Arab states while continually weakening the Palestinian Authority and eliminating Hamas as a military and political actor, will certainly also depend on Saudi Arabia’s reaction. In recent years, under Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom has increasingly opened up to tourism and, in the Abraham Accords, has moved closer to Israel diplomatically. A reversal of this strategy currently seems inconceivable, also in view of the vehement Palestinian question.
The conflict between the two Chinas will also be examined by us, as Beijing is becoming increasingly aggressive in its rhetoric and sabre-rattling towards its renegade brother. It remains to be seen whether Russia’s experience with its war of aggression will have a moderating influence here or whether China’s lack of economic growth will exacerbate the aggression as a distraction from internal problems.
The situation in the Sahel region, which we want to examine separately, has almost completely disappeared from view. The coups in recent years in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and lately Niger, which arose from the explosive mixture of strong population growth, corrupt elites, growing Islamism and intensifying climate change, are undermining the security situation in the entire region and threaten to spread to other stable countries such as Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. The post-colonial phenomena of states breaking away from France and the increasing influence of Russia in the region also highlight the geopolitical component.
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2023 surrounding the autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh was also pushed into the background by the major conflicts. Almost without international opposition, Azerbaijan, which by now had a clear military advantage over its neighbour thanks to its oil revenues, was able to force the predominantly Armenian-inhabited region to surrender within days, causing it to virtually dissolve itself. The subsequent expulsion of the Armenian population showed clear signs of ethnic cleansing, which many tried to escape by fleeing. It remains to be seen whether the conflict will calm down or whether Azerbaijan will even decide to attack Armenia in view of the focus of Russia’s Armenian ally Ukraine.
In view of the new uncertainty, this year’s outlook must focus on “tough security policy”, but should also not lose sight of the global crisis caused by climate change. An increase in heatwaves has been observed in recent years, which has not only triggered corresponding forest fires, but also raises the question of the extent to which tourist flows could even shift if, for example, the Mediterranean region becomes increasingly challenging in terms of climate in midsummer.
The warming in 2024 will also be intensified by the return of the El Niño climate phenomenon, which leads to changes in ocean currents in the tropical Pacific Ocean every 2 to 7 years. This could lead to a further significant rise in temperatures both on land and in the oceans, with a corresponding increase in major weather events. This will certainly give a further boost to climate protests in western industrialised countries – keyword “last generation” – and intensify internal social disputes against the backdrop of resistance, particularly from right-wing populist movements, to the perceived excessive costs of the energy and mobility transition.