Paris travel: Safety and the perception of risk


For most of our discerning guests, terrorism is a nuisance that does not affect their decisions. For a minority of travellers however, media coverage causes distortions in risk perception that can influence their decisions.


This article is to help travellers make an informed decision.

At its peak, terrorism in France has been responsable for around 100 deaths per year. Compare that death toll to preventable causes of death in the USA : 40.000 Americans are killed every year in traffic accidents, 24.000 from accidental poisoning, 20.000 in falls, 18.000 in homicides, 5.000 from drowning, 3.000 in fires, 2.500 from complications in surgery, 300 from suffocation in bed. In fact, in every year but 2001, more Americans were killed by either lightning, peanuts, deers or bees than by terrorists (source: Reframing taboo tradeooffs, Fiske & Tetlock, 2003).

The number of deaths from terroist attacks is so small that even minor measures to avoid them can actually increase the risk of dying. The cognitive psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer has estimated that in the year after the 9/11 attacks, 1.500 Americans died in car accidents because they chose to drive rather than fly to their destinations out of fear of dying in a hijacked plane, unaware that the risk of death in a plane flight from Boston to Los Angeles is the same as the risk of death in a car trip of 12 miles. In other words, the number of people who died by avoiding air travel was six times the number of people who died in the airplanes on September 11th 2001. These figures illustrate the kind of over-reaction that terrorists count on. They are communicators who seek publicity and attention that the media is only too willing to afford them: “if it bleeds, it leads”.

The cognitive psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman have shown that people intuitively estimate relative probability using a short-cut called the “availability heuristic” : the easier it is to recall examples of an event, the more probable people think it is. This leads people to overestimate the likelihood of dying from terror attacks (very high media coverage and hence easy to call to mind) and underestimate those deaths that pile up unreported such as traffic accidents and other avoidable causes of death. The probability of there being a terror attack in the next year should not be confused with the vanishingly unlikely probability of being caught in one. Just as the probabilty of there being a lightning strike should not be confused with the probability of being struck by said bolt.

I believe that a good decision uses all available information to best reflect the reality of a given situation.

It is business here in Paris. We hope you will look past the availability heuristic and join us to enjoy Paris’ timeless charms. 

Please do share your opinions and views in the comments below.

Thank you.

Alex Wagner

26 Comments Add yours

  1. Terry Rooney says:


    I’m not too sure who actually wrote the article, however I must say to them that it is very creative to say the least.

    Of course we live with constant threat of harm through the many accidents nominated in the article but terrorism is not an accident. It is a process where people set out to deliberately kill you. I for one live with no fear of going outside each day and facing a road accident or being poisoned or falling to my death. Most of these I have some control over. It is the fear that some warped evil minded person is planning to kill me and my family for no reason at all, a fact over which I have no control whatsoever.

    We have made a conscience decision not to return to Europe this year for this reason. We love France and Paris in particular but the fact that we may be harmed by these clowns has shut the door for us.

    Regards Terry.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Anonymous says:

    A very good article. We already have our plans for a return to France. We live about 30 minutes from Pulse in Orlando.

  3. Mary Patrick says:

    Excellent thoughts, Alex. If we let the terrorists stop us from traveling to France, they win. I notice you didn’t include the number of people killed by automatic weapons in the US. I’m guessing the odds of being killed by an automatic weapon in the US are far higher than the odds of encountering a terrorist episode in France.

  4. Michael F. Shaughnessy says:

    I was in London during the tube bombings—while I was not injured , hurt or harmed, I can tell you that the resultant chaos ruined a very pleasant vacation. The city, and the surrounding environs ground to a standstill- it is not the fear of death- but the ramifications and repercussions of a major attack- such as the one in Madrid- which caused a ripple effect, ruining the lives of many—-it is not just the people who die that are impacted- but businesses, travelers, and even those who live in those cities. If I get an opportunity to visit Paris again,I would gladly do so- but remain very concerned about something happening on a bus, a train, or in some museum.

  5. Kimberley (psychotherapist) says:

    The only thing you have to fear is fear itself….I think what you think about, you bring about. You can’t let fear of something keep you from living your life and having life experiences. Alex is not saying don’t take measures to be safe, but don’t let the psychological phenomenon of availability heuristic skew your perspective and dictate your decisions. I still plan on visiting Paris and fly into Italy this September (2016). I plan on having a great trip no matter what happens. No trip is perfect, it’s your decision to have a good experience anyway.

  6. Linda LaBeau says:

    I lived and went to high school in Paris in the 60’s. I roamed the city at will with no fear. This was a time when France was leaving the wars in Algeria and Indochina with many Algerians and French Indochinese were immigrating to France. In the 70’s during the uprisings in Northern Ireland I lived in London. Therefore I learned early in life to be vigilant. See something say something was part of my early training. As one commenter said if you hide the terrorists win. We are planning our next trip to Paris as I am writing this. France is too beautiful to miss.

  7. Barbara Vaughan says:

    In a few weeks I will be flying to Paris, as I have done for the past 5 years and after 9/11, to enjoy the city I love more than any other.Thank you Alex for your message. Barb Vaughan

  8. Great article! You should sell it to the travel department of France! They need it!

  9. Nan Artman says:

    I have just unsubscribed because of your calling terrorism a “nuisance.”

  10. I teach a course on vacationing in Paris. The title. “Have Your Midlife Crisis in Paris” which normally garners chuckles, has taken a beating recently. Meant to educate and inspire travelers in a humorous presentation, the word “crisis” is looming not so funny. However, my clientele, mostly middle-aged, though fearful in varying degrees, are making treks to our beloved Paris regardless. I’d like to share that while fretting over my near miss of the November 2015 attacks, San Bernardino happened in my own backyard. It brought home to me that terrorism is part of our (entire) world and always has been. Wikipedia has a chronological list of Paris terror attacks and, honestly, there’s nothing new in the last 100 years, we only hear about EVERYTHING now in our age of instant news. Be vigilant, make wise decisions, but GO TO PARIS and live joyfully.

  11. Sheri says:

    We do more good world wide by keeping the facts regarding terrorists out front. As a traveler, I refuse to fall for terrorists propaganda nor media misrepresentation. Thank you Alex for your article. Terrorist are chicken like school yard bullies. We need to stand up and “fight back” by living our lives fully and not in fear.

  12. Sue says:

    Within 3 days of his arrival in France when I introduced it to my husband for the first time, he vowed we would come back every year we could manage, and we would move there in a flash if it were possible.
    We made our third trip in 2015 and plan to return next year no matter what happens. Without Paris, & the French, this world would be a very dark place. Nothing can erase the amazing history and glory that was, is, and always will be the soul of France. See you next year.
    “Nous somme Charlie”. Never surrender!

  13. Ray Freeman says:

    Getting up in the morning is the ultimate risk, yet still we rise. We have lived, worked and loved in Paris and will not be detered by thugs. Paris is our second home and we will return again and again and again.

  14. Anonymous says:

    It does bother me that you have had so many incidents recently. I don’t have to go to Paris but can still go to other parts of France which I like. Car accidents do not just happen in the U.S. They also happen in France(I have seen them) You seem to be picking on the U.S of things that happen in every country. Terrorism is a completely different thing. It’s not just a nuisance for you, it’s very real. Just ask your government. I’m unsubscribing.

  15. Angela Shirlaw says:

    In January 2015 we were staying in the beautiful Marais Louise when the Charlie Hebdo attack occurred nearby. This was a real eye opener for us about how media report events and feed the terrorist agenda. Sky news reported ‘Paris under siege!’, ‘Paris in lockdown!’.
    Whilst it was undoubtedly tragic for the victims , their families and the wider Paris community. We only learned of it first through family in Australia worrying that we were OK. In the following days there was increased police presence but at no time did we feel unsafe.
    On the same day there were bushfires in a small area of Southern Australia. In the same bulletin as the Charlie Hebdo attack they reported ‘ Australia is on fire’ with a map of Australia flames covering the bottom half of the country!
    I now view news reports with a much more discerning eye and have shared this story many times with friends concerned about visiting Paris.
    Anything can happen anywhere but the chance of it happening to you is still miniscule and staying home is not risk free either. There will never be a time now where anywhere will be declared completely safe but we still need grasp life and live it to the full. I’ll be back to Paris as soon as I can get there. Thanks for the article Alex.

  16. Terry p says:

    Well maybe. But after numerous trips to France which is my favorite European country and dozens of weeks and months spent in my favorite city in the world, Paris, we have decided not to go back to France or anywhere in Europe. Not so much the fear of terrorism but the way in which Europe has changed. And it has changed so much with the influx of refugees. Maybe u r too close to see it. But we who come once or twice a year can see it very clearly. We will b staying home and spending more time in our beautiful country

  17. Lorraine Young says:

    I wonder why ‘Anonymous’ (August 12, 10.33) chooses not to use his/her name and own the comments. If Alex Wagner, who did put his name to his comments, had referenced the statistics of every nationality that visits Paris, the article would possibly have been too long for some to read – and then Alex would have received more complaints! When I last checked, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – the leading national public health institution in the USA) injury and death by firearms in the USA in 2013 alone was 106,674. That absolutely, in my mind, is daily, local terrorism. Why is that fact not splashed all over the world? My sister has lived in the USA for over 40 years. I will be travelling again to Europe soon rather than America. I do not feel safe in my sister’s country. Regarding Terry Rooney’s comment (August 11) re having some control over a car accident – really? Inexperienced, show-off’s, drug/alcohol-fuelled drivers in charge of a vehicle on the same road and he/she says you have ‘some control’ over a resulting car accident? I don’t know where Terry lives, but, bearing in mind the appalling amount of gun violence in the USA, I wonder would he/she happily go there, believing in ‘some control’ over a ‘loose canon’ with a gun? Terrorism, cowards, sociopaths bent on destroying and maiming is appalling. So are the106,674 shot in USA in one year – including national and international tourists.

  18. Mary Buchanan says:

    I understand that you are trying to protect a business…and whilst that is understandable, I think it is a remarkably poor choice of words to describe terrorism as a “nuisance!!
    Terrorist attacks of the ilk that have been visited upon France and Paris are substantially more than a “nuisance”. They are criminal acts, the perpetration of calculated evil designed to kill, instill fear and demonstrate hatred.
    I’ll continue to visit France and Paris, but it does no one credit to patronise and quote largely irrelevant statistics at me to justify a commercial concern.

  19. Thanks for giving us your insider opinion, Alex. I wouldn’t be deterred from visiting, although it won’t be this year due to other factors. There are many countries today where it pays to be vigilant and aware and I would worry more about visiting a country that shows no respect for women than I would worry about visiting France. Paris will always be one of our favourite cities. I do wish peace for those who have lost loved ones or suffered at the hands of the militants. Vive la France!

  20. Anonymous says:

    Hello Alex, very good article and very thought provoking, but have no intention of changing our plans for my third trip to Paris leaving in 2 days, then going to be see more of your beautiful country this time. Can’t wait. Dianne

    1. alcp says:

      Glad to hear it. Enjoy!

  21. Anonymous says:

    As far as safety is concerned you are absolutely right!
    As for the climate: These recent years we all live in darker times and places.
    In terms of general violence against people France is a much safer country then the USA (for example).

  22. My partner and I were in Paris the first week of May. It must of been our 60th trip to Paris-our most beloved city. We were not concerned with terroist attacks. We had a wonderful time-as always. To make a comparison of US fatalities, such a as car crashes, etc, compared to French terroist attacks is total
    ly out of line.Are you old enough to remember the mid 1980s bombing of Paris subways and trash cans? It didn’t stop me from going to Paris Your reasoning makes no sense. Do you remember September 11,2001? I certainly do. Please delete me from your mailing list

    1. alcp says:

      Hi Michael, thank you for your feedback.
      Thank you for your readership in the past and we will remove you from our list.

  23. Just got back from Paris 2 days ago and it was lovely as always!! Parents were concerned and I used the same rationale – 40k people die each year getting into their car — most folks never think twice about that risk because it’s such a familiar risk – it goes unnoticed.

  24. David Berliner says:

    Alex…Paris holds a special place in my heart because my parents met and were married there in 1941 (before having to flee France because they were Jewish and hunted by the Nazis). I have visited it many times, both as a journalist and as a tourist and have loved it each time. I have also enjoyed reading your posts, even though I know they are intended to attract customers for your apartments.

    But, like some others who have commented before me (above), your current post spoke to us–at least it did to me–as if to a naive person shaking in the the corner of a dark bedroom afraid “something” might happen. I live in New York City. I was here when 9/11 happened. I LOST FRIENDS on that horrible day. Terrorism is real to me.

    Nonetheless, I shall continue to visit Paris….if I don’t succumb to “lightning, peanuts, deers or bees” before I can do that. Because I resent receiving condescending messages, please remove me from your mailing list. Direct your attentions to your more “discerning” guests. Adieu!

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