Three days after the first demonstrations in Egypt, the US State Department issued a "travel alert." That soon became a "travel warning," but what exactly does that mean?
Many US travelers may wonder and even be inclined to ignore the government"s view of safety in other countries. After all, some of the State Department"s danger warnings may surprise you with destinations that seem to pose no threat.
The State Department's latest suggestion is that US citizens should avoid travel to Egypt at this time and notes that commercial planes are operating out of Cairo and several other Egyptian airports. Their advice: also avoid demonstrations "as even peaceful ones can quickly become violent and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse."
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune quotes a local couple who upon seeing the warnings found themselves dismayed about a long-planned trip to Egypt.
"It is silly to go on a trip if all you"re going to see are tanks and burning cars," said Fred Walker, who with his wife Karen cancelled their visit to Egypt.
Egypt is far from alone because there are a total of 31 countries that have earned the dubious distinction of US State Department warnings. They include such popular destinations as parts of Mexico.
The difference between travel alerts and warnings?
State Department officials say so-called "travel alerts" are for short-term events such as demonstrations or an outbreak of H1N1. "Travel Warnings" are issued due to unstable government, intense crime or frequent terrorist attacks. Also when "we want you to know the risks of traveling to these places and to strongly consider not going to them at all," according to the State Department"s web site.
The site offers detailed descriptions of countries worldwide, including traffic safety, medical facilities, entry and exit requirements, crime and security. Travelers can also call the State Department for such information.
Even popular spots, where most Americans travel without problems, can offer surprises.
The information on Mexico, for instance, warns that drug-related violence has increased in Acapulco, some of it in areas frequented by tourists; that Mazatlan has seen a surge in violent crime, and that "rape and sexual assault continue to be serious problems in Cancun and other resort areas."
Obviously, many parts of Mexico are safer than others. So warnings can also be specific to let visitors to Mexico, for example, become aware that most violent crime is committed along the border with the US.
Other often more popular areas such as Cancun and Acapulco are far safer in general than border towns.
Something else to consider is that even warnings point out that "millions of US citizens safely visit Mexico each year" and "the Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect US citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations."
So State Department officials say no one is urging panic or avoiding any countries entirely but visitors should at least be aware of possible problem areas before deciding where and whether even to make the trip.
By David Wilkening
Wednesday, February 9, 2011