The alert specifically references the outdoor markets, popular throughout the continent during the Christmas season, as potential terrorist targets. The advisory cites an increased threat of terrorist attacks throughout the winter.

on 21 November, 2016, the U.S. State Department issued a Travel Alert for Europe, citing “credible information” that “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh), al-Qaeda, and their affiliates continue to plan terrorist attacks in Europe, with a focus on the upcoming holiday season and associated events.” The alert, which is effective immediately and expires on February 20, 2017, references terrorist attacks that have occurred over the past year in Belgium, France, Germany, and Turkey, but warns that travelers should take precautions throughout Europe.

The advisory specifically asks American citizens to “exercise caution” at holiday-related festivals, events, and the popular outdoor Christmas markets that fill city squares across the continent. It recommends avoiding large crowds and remaining vigilant when visiting popular tourist sites and taking public transportation—two potential terrorist targets. The Travel Alert also makes reference to the efforts being carried out by authorities on the ground to prevent attacks: “European authorities continue to conduct raids and disrupt terror plots,” it reads. “We continue to work closely with our European allies on the threat from international terrorism.”

The alert is the first issued for Europe since a similar continent-wide one was posted this past summer, warning about increased terrorist activity around a number of major events, including the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, the Euro Cup, and the Tour de France.

International travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance (the company we use for our international travel insurance at Mercury Health Travel) reveals that the threat of terrorism has had a noticeable effect on tourist numbers in the region. One year after the tragic attack on the Bataclan in Paris, the city has seen a 12.8 percent decline in travelers during the upcoming 2016 winter holiday, according to Allianz’s study of 650,000 Americans’ travel plans. Meanwhile, the number of travelers to Istanbul has fallen by 60.2 percent and Brussels by 19.6 percent. Other European destinations that have not seen attacks in the past year have seen increases in visitors, including Zurich (11.7 percent), Amsterdam (30.8), Vienna (17.5), and Budapest (16.1).

The U.S. State Department issues Travel Alerts around specific events—in this case Christmas and New Year’s celebrations—as opposed to Travel Warnings, which are issued for ongoing threats such as those caused by civil wars or long-term political instability.

Mercury Health Travel believes that that fear should not get in the way of travel, but being aware of danger can go a long way. For those planning to visit Europe this winter, we recommend taking the extra precautions outlined in the Travel Alert and making sure to enroll in the State Department’s Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so that the nearest consulate or embassy is aware of your visit. Also, take advantage of the wide range of tech tools available that can help keep you safe and in touch with loved ones back home in case of an emergency.