The Politics of Travel Warnings

The recent unfortunate shootings/terrorist attacks in New Delhi in the lead up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games have highlighted for me the problem with travel warnings, and in particular travel warnings from the Australian government.  As a business traveller or a tourist it is important to be abreast of the latest travel advice but how much faith do you put into the one liner warnings?

probably the safest place to be in India...inside the Taj Mahal complex

The travel warning for India has just been raised to “High Degree of Caution” which is one notch down from “Reconsider your need to Travel”. India is split into different regions in the travel advisory, with Jammu and Kashmir those politically disputed regions near Pakistan are classed as “Do not Travel”; which is probably fair enough.  The other major region that is discussed is the Northeast region of Assam, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur, which has been classed as reconsider your need to travel. I had the good experience of travelling to India in December 2008 and January 2009, not long after the Mumbai Terrorist attacks.  Delhi was on high alert, with metal detectors in metro stations, hotels and tourist sites, however I must admit that I couldn’t work out how the machines were working…it appeared as though only those people who didn’t beep when they went through the metal detectors were frisked. Was this some sort of weird reverse psychology? Either way it didn’t fill me with that much confidence. The Gun pits outside the Taj Mahal with soldiers sporting colonial era Lee Enfield Rifles didn’t do much for confidence either! I am hoping that the commonwealth games have brought with it increased funding for Metal detector training and new automatic rifles……Exercising a High degree of caution is indeed good advice!

Inside the Forbidden City where security is very tight

Other countries such as China for example have their own regional tensions in “far away” provinces like Tibet and Xinjiang, where rioting and some “terrorist” attacks have occurred in the recent past.  But with the exception for these two provinces in China which are classed as “High Degree of Caution”, China is more broadly classed as “Exercise Caution” which I would say is fair. The United Kingdom is also a major trading partner with Australia and is destination to 100,000 of Australian tourists every year, and the threat level in the UK is the same as China: “Exercise Caution”.  I would also remind the reader that throughout the 1980’s and 90’s there were Irish terrorist attacks that occurred in the UK, while in the past 5 years there has been two attacks on the London Underground network, and an attack on an airport in Scotland. In addition to this there have been multiple “anti-terrorist” arrests to break up suspected Terror cells. 

Why is this terrorist attack information on China and the UK important?

Is Indonesia that much more dangerous than India and China?

Let’s look at the case of Indonesia. Indonesia which also includes Bali, and is one of the major travel destinations for Australian tourists each year and it is rated as “Reconsider your need to Travel”.  The reasons given for this is that there have been large scale terrorist attacks in the past that have killed westerners. There has also been the recent bombing of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Jakarta in July 2009, which killed some Australian Business people, and a shooting of a mine contractor in West Papua. Now these events are all very important, and need to be taken into consideration. The report for Indonesia mentions intelligence suggesting likelihood of further attacks, but can we take these too seriously? The problem with Indonesia and the travel warning is that it has been stuck at “Reconsider the need to Travel” for the best part of a decade.  In the recent past there has been more chance of been arrested for drug smuggling in Indonesia then being involved in a terrorist action. So can we and should we take these Travel warning seriously?

Well, it is hard to argue that they should be ignored. Safety should always come first, but when we compare the travel advisories of the UK, China, India and Indonesia then it is hard to think that there is not some political motivation that is colouring the travel advisory.  The travel advisory for India is particularly confusing when compared to Indonesia, with Terrorist attacks more frequent and more recent than those that have occurred in Indonesia in the past 3 years. 

What impact do these travel advisories have on International Business?

Rightly or wrongly these advisories impact business quite a lot. Some business people will have risk mitigation processes that will forbid or provide restrictions on travel to countries with high travel warnings.  It will also naturally affect a business decision about the viability and safety of a given project in a country/market with a high warning. And additionally it appears to prove an impediment to State Governments in Australia providing useful advice to businesses wanting to invest in a High Warning market such as Indonesia.

So next time you need to travel abroad, remember to check the travel advisory, but consider all the information at your disposal before you decide whether it is safe to travel. Personally, I find it hard to see how Indonesia is rated as “reconsider your need to travel” and I hope that this rating will be reconsidered again; exercising a high degree of caution is where I believe Indonesia should really be rated on the travel advisory. Let’s encourage out government to institute a fair warning system that both tourists and business can rely upon for accurate and up to date travel advice.

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