I just thought I should share with you all a good example of how travel advices offered by government does not always appear to represent the reality on the ground. Consider this Al-Jazeera report of problems in the Maldives! Within the report we read that as late as last Friday, the local police in Malé were blocking protests against the current government. The protests are apparently about rising prices in the Maldives with several hundred protesters occupying the main square; these protests had been running for seven nights. Within the same report, Reuters news agency apparently stated that over 300 people had been arrested and some injuries had been reported. With allegations and counter-allegations being made by all sides, it looks as if the protests will continue for sometime to come!
Now, let's imagine you are an intending holidaymaker to the Maldives and you dutifully examine the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) website for travel advices; what would you find? Well, you would discover the following statements:
"Maldives has been going through a period of political transition. Social unrest is possible and some past demonstrations on the capital, Malé, and other islands have resulted in violence. You should avoid demonstrations and beware of spontaneous gatherings. A number of protests have recently taken place in Malé. Please exercise caution at this time".
"There have been political demonstrations in Maldives, most seriously in 2004, which ended in violence. In February and March 2009 there were small-scale demonstrations and strikes on some resort islands, although these did not end in violence. In July 2010, following a period of political unrest within the Maldivian Parliament (Majlis), there were a number of political protests and demonstrations in Malé. They were predominantly outside government buildings and political figures’ residences. In October 2010, a number of political protests and demonstrations were held in Malé resulting in some injuries. You should avoid large gatherings and beware of spontaneous demonstration".
So, 'social unrest is possible', there were 'past demonstrations' in the capital, but most of these were confined to a period between 2004 to October 2010 - the FCO Travel Advisories were updated on 9 May 2011!
I don't know about you, but isn't there a gap here between what is actually happening and what we are being told by government is the situation - shouldn't ordinary Consumers who are told to rely on such advices (the travel industry certainly maintain that these advices are almost sacrosanct), be told what is actually happening?
Perhaps the clue lies in the strength of the lobbying carried out by the Travel Industry. Concerned that the FCO were 'blanket' advising against travel to any particular country, the FCO recently came under pressure to 'listen' to the industry when issuing advices. An official at the FCO is apparently quoted as saying,
"The detailed local knowledge Aito and its members can provide is invaluable, and we will take this into consideration when formulating our travel advice...The safety of British nationals will always come first, but if Aito or its members think we have got it wrong, we are always happy to look into specific cases.”.
The same official apparently further commented that following the representations from the travel industry, they would be 'very careful' not to issue blanket travel advices to a whole country.
What is interesting about this report is the implication - as we have always maintained - that the travel industry have a unique working knowledge of what is happening on the ground - far from relying on FCO Travel Advices, it would appear that they have a powerful role to perform in their creation!
This is really not good enough! Perhaps it is time for the FCO to realise that whilst it is their duty to 'listen' to industry and do what it can to support industry and allies, it is also time to consult and listen to Consumers and hear their concerns!
Now that would be a novelty, wouldn't it?