HHow much confidence do you have in government travel advice? Not so long ago, our trust was unshakable. If the Foreign Office said don’t go, we didn’t – not least because most travel insurance was voided on advice against non-essential travel.
Today we are less likely to heed his warnings unquestioningly. That could be a symptom of a widespread loss of confidence in the government, or a growing belief that the Foreign Office is no longer in touch.
Speaking of today Speaking on the case of imprisoned British-Egyptian pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, former British Ambassador to Egypt John Casson asked: “Why is the Foreign Office not issuing travel advice for the thousands of British tourists who travel to Egypt each year, explaining that we cannot guarantee this you the protection and consular support you would get in any other country?”
The Foreign Office’s recommendations on travel to Egypt have been questioned
PETER ADAMS/GETTY PICTURES
Last month, Secretary of State James Cleverly was accused of being unmusical after advising LGBT football fans going to the World Cup in Qatar to show “a bit of flexibility and compromise” and “respect the culture of your host country”.
Confidence had already been shaken during the pandemic, when a barrage of often irrational advice had nations locked, locked, and then locked again, often for much longer than other countries.
Norwich’s Clare Williams is among those who have lost faith in government advice. She said: “The advice they gave during the pandemic seemed arbitrary and often unwarranted. So when they told us not to go to Sri Lanka last summer, we checked other countries’ advice, looked at the news, contacted people who were out there and decided, bottom line, that the Foreign Office had overreacted . We easily found insurance, went in July and had a great time.”
According to the Federal Foreign Office, which employs 17,300 staff in diplomatic missions worldwide, it relies on “local knowledge from our embassies abroad, information from local authorities in individual countries and, in some cases, information gathered by the intelligence services,” when providing advice became”.
It does not consult tour operators or insurers, seemingly ignoring a wealth of detailed, up-to-date, local knowledge. Many in the travel industry are now encouraging the Federal Foreign Office to use this advantage to restore its credibility. Paul Simmonds, managing director of Battleface Insurance, said: “You could learn a lot from insurance companies and tour operators about the situation on the ground.”
Jarrod Kyte, director of Steppes Travel, has staff in about 100 countries and said: “They keep us up to date with what’s happening both nationally and locally. And while I understand the enormity of the Foreign Office’s task, it is frustrating that there is no mechanism for government-industry information sharing.”
The cracks were noticeable long before the Covid pandemic. When investigating the 2015 Sousse massacre in Tunisia, which killed 38 tourists, the German Foreign Office was criticized for ignoring information about terrorist attacks. And in Nepal that same year, delays in lifting a travel warning following the May earthquake led a Nepalese government official to describe British embassy staff as “arrogant, incompetent and lethargic”.
More recently, the pandemic-era red list of travel destinations, including Italy, France, Spain, South Africa, Turkey and the entire South American continent, and the three-month advice of non-essential travel to Sri Lanka, following a change of power have confidence in further undermining a once trusted institution.
Contrary to the recommendation of the Federal Foreign Office, vacationers traveled to Sri Lanka this summer
PETER ADAMS/GETTY PICTURES
There are contradictions between the advice given to British travelers and that given to citizens of other nations. In Mexico, for example, the Spanish and French governments advise travelers to avoid 15 states, Germany 13 and Australia 18. The UK advises us against non-essential travel up to 10. It’s not clear if we’re being sloppy or they’re overcautious, but it could make a serious difference.
● Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka?
● Qatar World Cup: what can sports fans expect?
Advice, however, is all that the Federal Foreign Office offers. “Any decision to travel to, stay in or leave a country must be made based on the best information available from our travel advisories and other sources,” it said. “The government cannot make these decisions for you.”
The number of destinations subject to travel warnings has fallen since the end of the Covid crisis, but 48 of the 228 nations and territories listed by the Federal Foreign Office are currently warned against all travel or all non-essential travel. His website has had 119 million page views so far in 2022, but some of his advice, tour operators say, is outdated or unfounded.
The Federal Foreign Office has been slow to lift restrictions in Nepal
Wild Frontiers’ Jonny Bealby said: “By trying to give an opinion about the whole world, they’ve screwed themselves up and inevitably get it wrong. They can be slow to update, overly general, ambiguous, and often overly cautious.
“They have advised against travel to the Kalash region of Pakistan for years, although there have been no problems whatsoever. Likewise Kashmir – when I was there in March there were 45 flights a day to Srinagar and although there has not been a terrorist attack on a tourist since 2007 the German Foreign Office still advises against travel to the entire region.”
The Foreign Office said: “The safety of UK nationals is always a top priority when preparing travel advice and we provide comprehensive guidance for those traveling abroad. Travel advice is constantly and rigorously reviewed. Our Embassies and High Commissions work with governments around the world to ensure our advice is as timely as possible.”
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