I was interested to read that Richard Branson does not like the travel advisories issued by the UK Foreign Office. His argument centres around the position that more travel is the best way to defeat terrorism. He believes that, “The right thing is for every country to not put out advisories against nations that suffer terrorist attacks, but instead continue to aid them, through tourism and trade”; Richard is entitled to his opinion.
The problem with this argument can be summed up in two words – Insurance & Choice!
The other issue that I have with Richard is this; travel advisories are not just about ‘terrorism’, they should also be concerned with the general safety in that country or resort, whether that ‘risk’ results from mass illness, crime or civil disorder.
It seems to me that if this argument, coming from one of the most successful travel industry personalities succeeds, then how long will it take for the pressure on government to take out warnings for these ‘extended’ risk areas?
Would it then be the case that travel consumers would have to rely solely on the ‘intelligence’ sources of the travel company?
How long would it be before Travel Insurance companies would include complex ‘get-out-of-jail’ clauses to prevent claims being made by Consumers caught up in these risk events?
During the uprisings in Egypt and Tunsia, many UK holidaymakers were subjected to contradictory and unsatisfactory advices from UK tour operators and in the early stages, holidaymakers found themselves caught in the middle of some very frightening situations. It was clear to us, having been provided with evidence from holidaymakers, that travel companies understood what was happening in these areas as they were issuing printed warnings for holidaymakers who had just arrived, not to leave the hotel complex!
So in those situations, we wanted to know why, if they knew that there was a risk before the holidaymakers arrived, they were not warned before they left home? It will not surprise the reader to know that we never received an answer to that question!
In those same situations, holidaymakers experienced problems with their travel insurance companies, either trying to resist paying out claims or simply withdrawing cover before travel. In the latter scenario, travel companies simply stated that their own travel insurance would cover them, but we did not speak with any holidaymaker who had that confirmed in writing!
Equally, we now see the extent of travel warnings to Egypt, where it appears that if you are travelling to the Sinai Peninsula, there is now a small strip of land that it is apparently safe to travel to on the coast-line, but dire warnings if you stray in from the coast! As the FCO states:
"The security situation outside the resort areas in the Governorate of South Sinai has deteriorated since early 2012 and there have been a number of hijacks, robberies and kidnaps in the interior of the Governorate".
We know from other areas of the world, including within the UK, terror activity is often associated with crime!
So I ask the question, how long is it before those engaged in criminal activities start to venture into the coastal areas and extend their sphere of influence?
Is it not ridiculous to suggest that such a small area, with so much risk around it, is safe to travel to?
Judging by the negative comments made by the public to Richard, there is an opinion expressed that he only represents the commercial position. He is entitled to make or take the position he does and I suspect his comments were made as a contribution to the ground-swell of revulsion following the bombs in Boston.
My position is quite clear:
- Simply turning your nose up at risk, however well intentioned, does not reduce the risk to holidaymakers;
- There should be no reduction in the levels of information in travel advisories;
- We should not be seduced into trying to create an air of ‘normalcy’ through the tourist trade where clear and evident risks exist - we are only fooling ourselves;
- I say that we should not be placing Consumers on the front-line in holiday destinations and certainly not making them the foot-soldiers in the so-called 'war on terror'.
I believe that trying to create ‘normal’ trading conditions does not help a country in strife. Where problems exist beyond the 'terror' label, the pressure of a lack of trade is surely the best pressure upon an errant government and the best support you can give to a people exhausted by years of mismanagement of their affairs and in some cases, a failure to guarantee their human rights?
I would be happy to extend this debate with Richard, because whilst he makes a valid series of points from his perspective, there is a need to engage with those of us at the coalface of the Consumer experience and understand fully why Consumers might just be annoyed whenever they are sold a holiday to a risk area without adequate warnings!