Travel warnings: how seriously do you take them?
Every holiday destination has its dangers, and if you look hard enough, youll find someone warning you about them. In the case of off-beat places like Somalia
it takes very little to convince most people to stay away: phrases like Al-Qaeda controlled cities and high risk of kidnapping are pretty compelling evidence to keep such places off your summer holiday plans.
But it seems that even popular destinations have their share of ominous sounding problems and official government warnings to back them up. Thailand
suffered a double-whammy of anti-government protests and avian bird flu, with the result that the Australian authorities warned its citizens against all non-essential travel. Mexico
was at the epicentre of the 2009 swine flu outbreak and at one point 80% of its tourists cancelled holidays leaving normally jam-packed beaches deserted during the busiest season. The press and world governments united in drumming up the hysteria despite the fact that 10 times more people died from normal flu over that period than from the allegedly terrifying epidemic.
Then there was India
, which suffered from the Mumbai terrorist attacks, resulting in more warnings against travel to that country and a multitude of cancelled travel plans.
In each of these places, the reality on the ground was very different to the picture painted in the press. Travellers who stuck with their plans enjoyed empty beaches, amazing service, discounted prices at restaurants and a distinct lack of congestion at the major attractions.
As the global swine flu scare fades away, the Mumbai bombings are long past, and Thailand once again regains its appeal and flood of visitors, what can we learn from travel warnings, and how can we decide whether or not to take them seriously?Start by looking at the source of the informationAuthorities
Governments, airlines and travel authorities are nervous about getting sued so if there is the slightest hint of danger they feel obliged to issue stern warnings. That way they are covered in the unlikely event the worst case scenario becomes reality. So if theres a slim chance of a traveller catching swine flu their official position is dont go.Press
The press have a different goal: they want to sell papers or magazines, and there is nothing better than a crisis to boost sales. So although they will publish largely accurate information, they will emphasise the negative and inflate the dangers to make the story more compelling. So while its true that swine flu killed 20 people in Mexico, they dont tell you that 150 people died from regular flu, just like they do every year. Tourist boards
On the other end of the spectrum are people representing the tourist business, desperate to emphasise the positive and make sure the tourists keep coming. It is their job, after all, to market the destination, but they cant really claim to be impartial. Youll seldom find a tourist authority that outright lies, but you will often find them spinning the positive to Pollyanna proportions. Travellers
With people increasingly going online for their information, the opinions of other travellers becomes very influential. Through blogs, forums and Facebook posts you can get first-hand, fresh information regarding the crisis on the ground. Just type Mexico + holiday + blog into Google, specify posts made in the last 24 hours, and voila! you get fresh facts to help make your decision. During most of the 2009s crises we found travellers on the ground giving positive accounts of their experiences and providing persuasive reasons to go visit despite official warnings to the contrary.Bottom line
So while the beleaguered travel industry dreads the next crisis to deter travellers from leaving the safety of their own homes, the lesson to take from the disaster-packed last year is to choose your source of information carefully. Sample the official sources of information but put more stock in the opinion of people just like you, with no vested bias towards either side of the crisis coin.
Good sources of information include:
Forums active posts from the front line
Bulletin boards a great source of conversations
Travel blogs millions updated every day from the road
Twitter see trending topics or search for destination
Hostels email or phone the owner in the destination
What do you think? Do you listen to travel warnings or go ahead and travel despite the risk of problems?