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Is the world getting too dangerous to travel?

The short answer to this question is an unequivocal NO; the vast majority of travel passes without any serious incident.

To put it into perspective, think about what happens in London on a daily basis, no one would answer the question ‘is London too dangerous to visit?’ with a ‘yes’.

However when we think about travel to London we don’t do so blindly, we do our research; the difference is we don’t think of it as ‘research’ or ‘planning’ because for most people who visit the town on a regular basis, work or live there, this ‘research’ forms part of our everyday lives.

Adrian Lee of the Daily Express called me this week, the question he asked me repeatedly was ‘did I think the world had become much more dangerous for travellers?’. This was not a question he was ever going to be able to get me to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to, because it is just not that simple.

The facts are so variable, extensive and complicated that even after a very extended conversation I was no nearer to a conclusion either way and four days later I am still no closer.

There are undoubtedly areas of the world which have become more dangerous and some which are much safer, there are areas which have opened their doors to tourism and other which have locked tourists out again. The world is in flux in that way, but then it has been since the day man started exploring beyond his natural boundaries; I have no doubt it will continue to be that way.

The biggest change in travel has come from how easy it is to travel and how relatively straight forward it is to visit once remote and sometimes still dangerous parts of the world.

With air travel at its most prolific, it does seem that nowhere is now off limits to the intrepid traveller and much as we might be led to believe we are on the verge of financial Armageddon, a significant number of people are relatively speaking much better off than they were even 20 years ago; a combination that makes travel to extreme corners of the world a realistic possibility for more mainstream tourism.

Add this ease of accessibility to the drip feeding effect of survival programmes on television, adventure travel companies offering trips to every part of the world (few of which offer a realistic view of the potential dangers) and the often over competitive nature of travellers themselves in search of bragging rights and a dangerous overconfidence can be bred into potential travellers.

Mass tourism also adds to this potent cocktail, until recently mass tourism was restricted to western Europe, parts of the USA, Australia and one or two other spots around the world. Other parts of the world were at that time explored only by ‘adventure travellers’ who were looking for an experience away from mass tourism. However often where adventure travellers venture, mass tourism follows; add to this the sudden growth in the wealth of countries we once referred to as ‘developing’ and the subsequent mobility of these populations and travel, once the privilege of a relatively small part of the world’s population, is now open to a many millions more across the world.

The consequence of this mobilisation is that destinations once explored only by the adventure traveller can now be booked in 5 minutes over the internet, without so much as a mention of the potential risks of travel to and in those destinations.

This in turn has pushed adventure travellers, looking for their unique experience where ‘challenges’ enhance the adventure, away from these new mass tourism locations and onto more remote destinations; some of which carry significantly more ‘dangers’ than ‘challenges’.

 

The challenges travellers face are many and varied, but even just in the last few years we have seen:

  • Civil unrest and rioting in Thailand, Greece, Peru, Ecuador, Middle East, South Africa, Madagascar, China, Russia, Mongolia, Australia, Brazil, Mexico… the list could go on and on.
  • Crimes against travellers from muggings, robberies, express kidnapping, violence, sexual assault etc.
  • Terrorist plots and / or attacks on every continent except Antarctica
  • A significant rise in serious or fatal road traffic accidents, as motor vehicle numbers continue to increase.
  • Identity fraud and social networking / media scams
  • New dangers such as piracy, the incident involving the murder of Mr Tebbutt and kidnapping of his wife from a Kenyan resort by suspected Somali pirates, prompted Adrian Lee of the Daily Express to contact us in the first place.

 

However going back to the point I made about travel to London; London over the past few years has experienced:

  • Civil unrest manifesting itself in violent student demonstrations and the August 2011 riots.
  • Repeated terrorist plots and attacks, many of which have failed or been foiled, but the London bombing of 2007 demonstrate the uncomfortable truth that it only takes 1 attempt to be successful.
  • Knife crime, violent crime, muggings, pickpockets, sexual assault and our unique brand of drink related disorder are sadly far too common an occurrence.
  • London cyclists, pedestrians and motorists are among the 2800+ people who die on the UK roads every year.
  • Identity theft and card fraud has led us into a state of paranoia where every time we hand over a credit card in a petrol station or café, we wonder if our card is being cloned.

 

Can you spot the synergy…?

 

So why do we ask the question about world travel but not travel into London, the answer is that we prepare for travel into London, but we don’t see it as preparation. Too many people don’t prepare sufficiently for world travel; where the dangers and consequences of those dangers are often greater as many countries don’t enjoy the benefit of the safety net in place throughout the UK (police, NHS, legal system etc.).

Let me offer an example; take the recent riots in London (08-2011), which although devastating and dangerous were still relatively speaking significantly less dangerous than their equivalent in countries where guns are commonplace and police and the army are much more likely to use weapons against their own populations. People still stayed away in their tens of thousands, they avoided affected parts of London and businesses closed early so their staff could get home to safety before it got dark; they did their research.

How many of the million plus people who visited Thailand last year even looked for recent news stories about Thailand, let alone went onto the Foreign Office (FCO) website? I guarantee it was not as many people as those who were planning to go into London during the period of the riots watched the news the day before… I spoke to one police officer who has a twitter account for his borough (which is not even in London) and he experienced a threefold increase in the number of his followers the day the riots started in London; people were doing their research.

The world can be a dangerous place to travel; travel however is a choice. Travellers should not make their decisions based purely on availability and budget, but rather take this process a stage further.

We prepare for every activity which carries danger in our lives; from an early age we learn to cross the road safely when our parents teach us. Don’t however assume that such a simple action is the same in London as it is in Phnom Penh; the little green man has yet to reach every corner of the world. 

Travel safety concerns can however be managed and the immense pleasure and benefits travel delivers, do not need to be missed if the planning for travel is effective. The world’s most successful explorers and adventurers rely on immaculate planning to guarantee the best chance of success.

 

To view the original Daily Express article please Click Here

Source – Peter Mayhew is the Managing Director of Safe Gap Year. He delivers independent travel safety courses and provides expert advice on all issues of travel safety.

Date – 19th September 2011

 

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