What’s the point of official travel advice, and should we use it?
It is quite a walk up the Great Staircase, along the corridors of history to my meeting at the Foreign and Colonial Office (FCO) in Whitehall. My destination, the Locarno Room, is known as ‘The Nations Drawing Room’, where Europe’s boundaries where re-drawn after World War One. What stories these walls could tell.
Prior to the millennium there was little communication or consultation between the FCO and the stakeholders involved in tourism. Twelve years ago, following representations and after a particularly severe travel advisory shut down tourism in East Africa, I was asked to join the Review Group and Strategy Board representing African tourism. Our meeting today is attended by fourteen senior representatives from tourism, aviation, insurance and health, and from FCO departments covering many aspects of global advisories. Throughout the morning we are carefully briefed on improvements to the advisory machine and, as always, the current threats to British nationals travelling abroad.
The FCO’s online travel advice, by country, covers issues relating to safety, security, entry requirements, travel warnings and health for 225 countries. The considerations are based on input from a number of sources including the UK’s embassies abroad and the intelligence services.
The purpose of the service is to provide objective information and advice to help travellers make informed decisions about their foreign travel. The snag is that the advice is now recognised as the yardstick for safe travel by the insurance industry and many policies will not meet a claim, for example, if the level of advice given is raised to “all but essential” travel or higher.
It is well worth checking the wording of any policy on this aspect but, ultimately, whatever the advice, the decision to travel, to stay in or leave a country, is yours to make.
Nigel Vere Nicoll is Chief Executive of Atta, The African Travel & Tourism Association, which serves travel companies in the African travel sector in 37 countries around the world. For more information visit www.atta.travel.