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18 Jul, 2005

Backlash Against Double-Standard UK Travel Advisories

The comment made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he knew of no specific intelligence that could have prevented the July 7 bombings in London has sparked outrage in Asia-Pacific travel industry about the double standards in issuing travel advisories against developing countries.

Mr Blair told the House of Commons on 11 July 2005: “I know of no intelligence specific enough to have allowed (the UK police and intelligence services) to prevent last Thursday’s attacks.”

That has prompted serious discussion in the Asia-Pacific travel industry around the question: If the UK government did not have enough intelligence to protect its citizens at home, what is the quality of intelligence that justifies issuing travel advisories supposedly to protect them from terrorism abroad?

Inspite of official warnings by senior UK security authorities that more attacks were likely, a close monitoring of some key advisory-issuing websites between July 7 and July 13 clearly showed that neither the Australian nor the U.S. websites were discouraging travel to the UK.

On the other hand, the UK, Australian as well as the UK websites were continuing to feature strongly worded and very specific advice discouraging their citizens from travelling to “parts of” Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, and many other Asian, African and Middle East countries based on alleged “credible threats” of terrorist attacks.

A UK tour operator based here who did his own check of the websites said he was “truly appalled” by the warnings he read about travelling to Thailand on the UK Foreign Office website (http://www.fco.gov.uk/).

“How do we ever get anyone visiting our shores if they ever read this stuff beggars belief. Who on earth writes this claptrap? Are they sitting here in the Embassy in Bangkok? Can we go and talk to them?” the operator emailed this columnist.

He said his own family who had booked and paid for a trip to Thailand “started thinking of postponing their trip because of what this website says!

“I tried to explain that the pre-G8 Edinburgh riots would represent the same disruption to them in Swansea as the situation in the 3 southern provinces does to us in Bangkok – sadly the next day the bombs in London went off, and they soon realised that they were in more danger at home in the UK than they would be over here…”

Marie Venus Q. Tan, Director, Central and Eastern Europe, Philippine Department of Tourism, said, “The Philippines is one with its regional neighbours in collectively bringing this issue to a test!”

She noted that former Philippine Minister of Tourism – and now Philippine Senator, Mr. Richard J. Gordon, “was one of the first to air his sentiments and protested about unfair travel advisories at World Tourism Organization and Pacific Asia Travel Association initiated forum and meetings.”

From the UK, PATA Chapter Board Member Paul Hoskins wrote: “Changes and improvements to the process and advice published has been effected. However, it is clear that much more needs to be done to continue influencing opinion and the outcome of the travel advisory process before we can rid ourselves of the ‘double standards’.”

He urged the travel industries in Thailand and any other affected Asia-Pacific countries to take this issue up at every possible level.

“It is also clear that those countries, individuals and businesses who feel they are being unfairly singled out for unsubstantiated and inappropriate travel advisories should make representations in their home countries and destinations to their elected representatives and civil authorities to bring pressure to bear on the embassies and missions of the likes of the British, American and Australian governments.

“Only when we work in consort can we hope to make any sense and change to the occurrence of inequitable and unhelpful travel advisories,” Mr Hoskins said.

Inspite of the frustration, the Asia-Pacific travel industry does not favour tit-for-tat retaliation but rather an end to the advisories entirely.

Wrote a Malaysian tour operator, “We in Asia are in agreement with you of the West having double standard. Don’t go there and tell all our friends to do the same. If all Asia and rest of Asia do this, UK will feel the effect that travel advisories does.”

From a senior tourism executive in Brunei came this comment, “Tourists are not stupid, let them make the choice where to go. There is enough media and Internet around for people to be aware of potential dangers.”

He noted that nowhere is really safe from earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, or even car accidents, and people can’t live their lives hiding from danger.

Thus, he said, these advisories become “not only pointless, but smack so much of double standards, politicking and profiteering that the rich nations that regularly issue them against poorer nations but not against their own kind, where danger is in fact usually higher, should be put to shame and asked to apologise or compensate for the hardships they have caused to those whose livelihoods have been affected by such advisories.”

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