Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is your holiday destination safe enough?

Thailand? Ukraine?
No! Lausanne, Switzerland, September 2007
You had been looking forward to your great vacation until headlines started popping up in the news about trouble in your expected destination. What to do now? Should you change your plans or brush off the bad news as media hype? This is an increasingly frequent dilemma with the growing popularity of holiday destinations in emerging countries which tend to be less stable and mature, politically or socially, than the “old” world, which is, in part, why they are called “emerging”! The Arab Spring affected the entire Mediterranean southern coast, shutting down the most popular holiday destinations from Algeria to Egypt. Now it is Ukraine, Venezuela and Thailand, all at once.

Thailand is the most visible example being the most frequently affected destination by the popular protests and demonstrations that we currently see on the news, and yet remains one of the most popular destinations in the world. A chronic political crisis going back a very long time erupts in the streets of Bangkok every couple years which, as would be expected, makes for news headlines that have nothing to do with its famous beaches and delightful people. But Thailand is also the best example of a destination where the effects of unrest are magnified and generalized by both traditional and social media causing tourists to cancel or change their destination to another country even if their intended holiday spot is nowhere near any disturbance.

Read past the headlines, carefully!


Obviously you are not going to make a big decision about your vacations based on a few words in bold letters. So, you read the news articles and come out with some information, but also with more questions: how far is this from where we are going? Can I get from the airport to the resort safely? And most important: Can I still shop! The first thing to do is read the official travel advisories to give you some basis to evaluate the news. While the travel industry typically complains that official travel advisories go overboard and scare away tourists from otherwise safe destinations, they are in fact generally quite accurate and restrained. The problem is with the audience not reading what the advisories actually say! The British Foreign Office travel advice being probably the most respected and followed advisory in the western world, let's have a look at their current summary for Thailand:
“you should not enter protest sites, or the adjacent pedestrian areas”.
That's all, it does not say avoid Bangkok, or Thailand is too dangerous to travel to. What it says is quite sensible, and if you think about, could hold true for any other large political demonstrations anywhere else, including London or Paris. You would not cancel a trip to Europe on that basis, unless transportation was also disrupted, as you could be 100% sure it would be in Paris. But in Bangkok, metro, skytrain, airport trains all run as usual, as do taxi, although they will take longer to get around the demonstration sites.

But the advisory clearly warns about the violence?


Yes indeed, and specifically mentions the use of firearms and grenades, because such violent incidents have taken place in areas of political demonstrations. The advisory to “take extra care to avoid all protests, political gatherings, demonstrations and marches” should not be a problem being that they do not occur in normal tourist areas, namely hotels, attractions, beaches and shopping areas. While the demonstrations are colourful with cheerful participants eager to have their picture taken, if you go there, you take the same risk as they do, neither more, neither less. You become part of the crowd and grenades are as blind to tourists as they are to the children who became innocent victims of random violence. But of course, if you were concerned about safety on your vacations in the first place, you would not find yourself in the heart of a demonstration, now would you?

Relax, enjoy and keep an eye on the news


Even on vacations, it's a good idea to remain aware of the news, even if only so you don't find yourself on a fishing boat in heavy sea the next morning, or any odd happening that could affect tomorrow's vacation plans, including demonstrations on the way to visit a temple. Common sense and some basic awareness will keep your vacations relaxing and enjoyable as you intended it to be.

Useful links:

If you are interested to read further about political crises in the context of tourism:

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