Travel Warnings – Do they Help or Hurt?

I just read an interesting brief in the Miami Herald this morning about how some countries are issuing travel warnings against various cities in the United States.  This has apparently sparked “outrage”, but then again, the US State Department is pretty good at doing it themselves.  Now, the big issue was with France which is not listed on the US’ list of places to be careful when traveling.  Apparently the foreign ministry felt it was important to warn its citizens about the dangers of various cities, their neighborhoods, and whatever they felt was important for their citizens to know (International Business Times article here).  Whether or not they make any sense, well, that’s a matter of opinion.  Whether or not they should be published in the first place, that’s a matter of debate.

The United States Department of State currently has travel warnings issued for 34 countries (http://1.usa.gov/1bJQFCC).  No, not cities… these are warnings issued for entire countries.  The one for Colombia warns that although the country has become much more stable and hosts thousands of US citizens, and knows of no known threats to US citizens, there is still the possibility of danger due to narco-trafficking and gang violence, citing a car-bombing in May of 2012… a year and a half ago.  There are other countries listed that are more “obvious”, but then again, there is an inherent risk in traveling to any country in the world that you are not familiar with.  It’s important to know where to go, where not go to, how to get around safely and securely, and what information you can trust.

The fact that other countries are warning against travel to cities in the United States (i.e. New York, Miami, Washington DC, Detroit, etc) is not a surprise.  However, those cities listed should be as offended as those countries which the US lists on the State Department’s website.  So the question is, what is the real purpose, and even value, of these types of travel warnings issued by governments?  Are they for risk management purposes?  Can the government just say “hey, we warned you!”… but when someone gets caught up in the violence within countries not listed, would the government just say “oops… we didn’t know”?

Personally, I do not see the value of making generalized statements about countries and the supposed risks that may be involved.  I am not saying there is no absolute value in knowing this information, but if you are going to provide useful information to your citizens, provide a portal with the facts and figures and let people decide for themselves… for all destinations.  If Fodors, Frommers, AAA, Mobil, Lonely Planet, and dozens of other publications (let alone the thousands of websites) can provide deep insight into what to expect in the 200+ countries around the world… you’d think the government could do something on an even more simple scale?  While risk management is important, these warnings are capable of creating impacts that go beyond safety.  They can hinder a destination’s efforts in trying to promote itself not just to travelers with tourism dollars, but also from investments from corporations into the local economies.  Governments already provide plenty of restrictions when it comes to travel, but when it comes to travel warnings, maybe they should let the traveler do the work and assume their own risk.

Posted in HGP Blog
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