About Official Government Travel Advisories

Are official travel advisories supplying enough information to be a completely reliable source?

It is extremely upsetting when threats such as conflict, crime, disease, terrorism or accidents cause disruption to people's travel plans, for everyone. And the media will exacerbate the threat in the way that reports are written using inflammatory images and language. People see this and they don't really know 'what to believe'.

New travel threats appear on a regular basis and can impact travel decisions dramatically. Since new conditions can appear without warning, it follows that travel threats can also dissipate quite quickly. Also important is that country advisories apply generally to the whole country whereas the threat may exist only in isolated areas. Knowing the current status, as well as the real risk associated with any threat is key to making well informed decisions.

Official travel advisories are intended to give travellers an overall indication of the risks that travelling to certain countries exposes them to. These advisories are provided by the governments of the source countries. Advisories are the highest form of warning and most are reliable but many leave out important information which could be helpful to learn better about travelling in some countries. As well, different countries may have different levels of warning for the same country, so check the other countries too.

Travel advisories may indicate several different types of threats including crime, political instability, health issues or natural threats such as hurricanes, volcanoes, and so on.

Advisories are updated whenever a risk assessment changes so it is suggested to check them fairly often. Subscribe to a news feed, like Google News to get up to the minute reports. Travel advisories are issued by Canadian, American, British, Irish, Australian and New Zealand as well as other government authorities for their citizens.

Health advisories are issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization as well as public health agencies such as Public Health Agency of Canada.

In addition to official travel advisories, travel providers may also issue their own advice related to travel conditions such as weather and other conditions that might affect the ability to travel including flight schedules, airport conditions and so on.

Travel advisories are guidelines to risks associated with health or disease, security or crime, transportation safety, weather and climate and similar risks. How an individual adheres to warnings depends on their own willingness to accept the risk. One way of verifying what a specific risk might be is to check with the accommodation provider or the tour operator in the destination. They will be the best informed about the current risk. This information should not be taken verbatim, without corroboration and should be blended in with all the reports to more accurately assess the risk.

There is a high level of consistency in government issued travel advisories but there are still discrepancies:

Are government officials verifying information with governments, NGOs or other sources closer to the actual location? And, for many source countries, crime and terrorist threats are on-going. So, is the re-occurrence of the threat any more real in the destination than in the home country?

Are tourists being fully informed of safety issues? Health risks? STDs? Food Safety? Water? Insect-borne disease?

Governments are responsible for protecting the interests of all citizens. In this light, travel advisories are issued to protect travellers but are also useful to protect the liability that travel service providers may be exposed to. It should not escape anyone's notice that one outcome, whether intended or otherwise, is to keep people at home where they will spend their money in the local economy.

It is incumbent on the traveller to do their own research as, in many cases, travel advisories are not completely accurate. Sometimes reading travel blogs will add missing information and may allow the traveller to discuss issues with other people who've recently been there. Booking through a travel agent will help to get most up-to-date information. Travel agents are legally required to inform travellers about travel advisories and to supply current, relevant advice. As well, travel agents will also be in a better position to offer assistance if something should go wrong.

Getting familiar with the geography of the place is also important to be able to judge relative risks pertaining to areas to be travelled in or areas to be avoided. So there is a real chance that the area where the traveller plans to spend their time will have no exposure to the risk.

Perhaps official "Travel Advisories", might be able to include mapping to specific events, or series of occurrences, like crimes, within the country. So, the idea being, the traveller would be given advice as to specific geographic (as opposed to political) areas that should either be avoided or to travel to with extra caution.

What about the idea of using 'geo-fences' in tourist districts to warn mobile users when they are approaching a potential risk, hazard or known high-crime hotspot area? Are there other types of signs, markers or warnings that might also be useful? Destinations, authorities, security forces and police need to take a pro-active stance in dealing with awareness of criminal activity. Think about it, wouldn't it be a shock to citizens, or criminals, to be called out publicly that there is a threat present? It is happening anyway, through social media and gossip and chit-chat, so why not speak to the problem head-on such as using crime mapping websites?

In some cases, it may be enough to slightly alter travel dates to avoid things like election campaigns or other public demonstrations. If there is armed conflict or war in the area, it is best to steer clear altogether.

It is a good practice to advise the government, officially of your travel plans. This can usually be done by registering on the travel site, for example travel.gc.ca, for Canadians.

It is also a good practice to learn about emergency numbers, evacuation plans and safe places to go, just in case. As well, the perception of a risk in the country may be quite different from ours, so learning about the relative perception would also be helpful.

Another worthwhile step is to check with the insurance provider, just in case they might have an exclusion to travel to certain places or under certain conditions. Travel insurance providers may not provide coverage for travel to areas under high level warnings. It is also advisable to check with your doctor well ahead of travel, especially to tropical regions.

Although "Travel Advisories" are mostly reliable, in some cases, they may be actually doing a disservice because the people who are travelling in or to these countries still may not have the proper information to travel safely and intelligently.

Further, when travel advisories are based on media reports that sensationalize events, this may increase the perceived threat, real or not but that is what people base their decision to travel on.

So, again, while travel advisories are important, they are only part of the story.

Disclaimer: This information is intended to give a general overview of the shortcomings of official travel advisories. It is best to check about the relative safety or risk incurred when travelling to certain countries, areas or locations. There is no 100% risk-free way to travel.

Questions you might ask about travel advisories:

Are the country specific travel warnings giving accurate enough information to allow travellers to make decisions about travelling there? Or about travelling around after they get to the destination?

Official Government Travel Advisories

Country travel advice and advisories (travel.gc.ca)
Our Country travel advice and advisories pages provide Canadians travelling and living abroad with official Government of Canada information and advice on situations that may affect their safety and well-being. Select your destination from the list below to view regularly updated information on its security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate, and how to find help when you are there.
No matter where in the world you intend to travel, make sure you check your destination country’s travel advice and advisories page twice: once when you are planning your trip, and again shortly before you leave. If the region or the country you will be visiting becomes subject to a travel advisory, your travel health insurance or your trip cancellation insurance may be affected.
You are solely responsible for your travel decisions.

Country Travel Advice and Advisories - JSON format datafile (open.canada.ca)

Travel Advice - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Government of Ireland

Travel advisories | SafeTravel, New Zealand Foreign Affairs & Trade

Travel advice from smartraveller.gov.au
   - Smartraveller is provided by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

United States: Department of State

Other sources for travel advisories

Make sure to read independent advisories carefully and make sure they are current. This information is here to assist in developing a complete perspective on the conditions of travel to a country that you don't know very much about.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Cruise Ship Inspection Program (CSIP) - Health Canada (last known working page at archive.org)
Through extensive consultations with the cruise ship industry, Health Canada has implemented a voluntary compliance inspection program of cruise ships that visit Canadian ports.
Unannounced inspections are conducted on cruise ships travelling in Canadian waters. The inspections are conducted once per year during the cruise ship season which extends from April to the end of October. The scoring system is based on 41 inspection items with a total value of 100 points. Inspection items are weighted according to their probability of increasing the risk of a gastrointestinal disease outbreak. A satisfactory score is 86 points out of a possible 100 points. A score of 85 or lower is not satisfactory and requires a reinspection within the following month. This does not mean, however, that the travelling public is exposed to any imminent risk to their health.
You can consult the results of these inspections and the cruise ships participating in this program by consulting:
• Cruise Ship Inspection Scores by Company, Public Health Agency of Canada
The guidelines of Health Canada's Cruise Ship Inspection Program were harmonized with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) in 1998. This has resulted in a superior inspection program and effective partnership.

Global Travel Warnings - Nations Online Project

HealthMap | Flu Map | Contagious Disease Surveillance | Virus Awareness
HealthMap brings together disparate data sources to achieve a unified and comprehensive view of the current global state of infectious diseases.

International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) (facebook)

Travel Health Alerts (iamat.org)
Here you'll find general travel health advice to help you stay well on your trip. Check out our most popular publications in Featured Resources and explore the full resource library below.

Puerto Rico Warnings and Dangers (smartertravel.com)
Educate yourself about what to expect before visiting Puerto Rico. The United States Department of State does not issue a travel advisory for Puerto Rico because it is a US possession.

Travel Advisory.info
Each day we collect advisories from different authorities and compute a risk assessment for every country in the world. Use this data to prepare your travel plans and get a solid first impression.

World Health Organization: Travel and health

Zika Research (Google Groups, 2017)

Articles about travel advisories

Some of this information is a little dated but it is still useful in order to get the full picture about travel advisories.

ASTA Slams Vague Government Travel Alerts (travelpress.com)
The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has expressed its concern over vague, generalized worldwide travel warnings that offer no country-specific details and that can be confusing to travellers and risk discouraging travel across the board.

ASTA: Travel Warnings: Vague, Often Unhelpful (travelpulse.com)
ASTA is calling general worldwide travel alerts vague, confusing and unhelpful for travelers and warns that these types of alerts risk discouraging travel across the board.

FCO travel advisories: the case for transparency and balance, A report by Tourism Concern, October 2003
This report examines FCO travel advice particularly in comparison to the standards set out in the Crisis and Disaster Management Guidelines issued by the World Tourism Organisation

Government Issued Travel Warnings against Mexico
A few years ago, it was the norm to issue travel warnings against the entire country of Mexico regarding drug and gang violence, despite these activities almost never impacting on the tourist destinations. These warnings had serious consequences, not only for Mexican tourist areas but also for US based tourist businesses that rely on sending visitors to these places.

How Travel Advisories Affect Your Insurance Plan
Ultimately you are traveling at your own risk, so neither a travel warning nor a travel advisory can legally keep you from traveling to your desired destination. It is simply an advisory to help you evaluate your own risk. (Caveat: Travel insurance may be void in high-risk areas.)

Panic! The effect of travel advisories on tourism after terrorism, The "Good Tourism" Blog, 2019
Sri Lanka-based villa agent Jack Eden calls for the travel & tourism industry to work proactively to dampen the devastating effects of travel advisories that exacerbate the human and economic damage of terrorism.

Security alerts and their impacts on Africa by Wafula Okumu, 2007
Mr Okumu underlines the unequal way in which travel advisories are issued.

The Truth About Travel Warnings!
Each year, governments issue hundreds of travel warnings. Some are obvious while others may seem exaggerated or even unnecessary. However, any traveller who even considers ignoring these bulletins should think twice because the repercussions can be serious.

Travel advice explained (smartraveller.gov.au) | RSS Feed

Traveltruth (.com)
Q&A for the intelligent traveler: ad free, hype free answers to your travel questions by the nation’s most respected team of travel consultants and journalists: it’s like having the nation’s best travel advisors living inside your smartphone.

Travel Warnings: Developing an Effective Response by Julie Friend, NAFSA, 2010 (nafsa.org)
"Not All Travel Warnings Are Created Equal:
Travel Warnings are the highest level of advisory, noting long-term, systemic, dangerous conditions tied to political, social, economic, or environmental conditions. Also, in some locations, the U.S. government’s ability to assist travelers in distress may be severely limited due to internal or external travel restrictions".

Travel Warnings Guidelines: Resilience of Tourism Development (UN) (last known working page @ archive.org, 2019)
"Travel advisories should be specific about the nature of the threat or risk and they should be developed through a robust and considered process".

The UNWTO no longer specifically refers to travel advisories in its "Global Code of Ethics for Tourism". Instead, in Article 4, it states:

"It is the task of the public authorities to provide protection for tourists and visitors and their belongings; they must pay particular attention to the safety of foreign tourists owing to the particular vulnerability they may have; they should facilitate the introduction of specific means of information, prevention, security, insurance and assistance consistent with their needs; any attacks, assaults, kidnappings or threats against tourists or workers in the tourism industry, as well as the wilful destruction of tourism facilities or of elements of cultural or natural heritage should be severely condemned and punished in accordance with their respective national laws"

Recommendations on the Use of Georeferences, Date and Time in Travel Advice and Event Information, World Tourism Organization, 2011
[T]he Declaration on the Facilitation of Tourist Travel ... entrusted the Secretary-General "to promote the principles set in the Declaration, including the use of modern information and communication technologies, in relation with travel advisories and visa facilitation".

© Alan Barry Ginn, December 2021 (January 2015) |  E&OE; Trademarks are the property of their respective rights holder.