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14 Aug, 2006

Here We Go Again: More Attacks, More Travel Advisories

Britain and the United States last week found themselves at the receiving end of security alerts from other countries as well as from other each other.

A check of the various travel advisory websites issued by the US, UK, Canada and Australia indicated that although warnings were being put out about the very high level of security alerts, none were discouraging travel to either the US or UK.

This contrasts with travel warnings issued by these countries against Thailand which very specifically discourage their citizens not to travel to parts of the south. Similarly specific warnings also apply to other countries like Indonesia.

The US-UK trans-Atlantic sector is one of the heaviest travelled air corridors in the world, and specific advisories discouraging all but essential travel will wipe out the airlines and travel industries on both sides.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said: “MI5 raised the threat level to critical on 10 August 2006. This means that an attack is expected imminently and indicates an extremely high level of threat to the United Kingdom.

“We advise you to exercise caution and monitor developments that might affect your safety because of the risk of terrorist attack. Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security threats.”

Although it stopped short of discouraging travel to the UK, the Australian travel advisory on Thailand 2 says, “We strongly advise you to reconsider your need to travel at this time to the southern provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla or overland to and from the Malaysian border through these provinces, due to high levels of ongoing violence in these regions, including terrorist attacks.”

The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, too, referred its citizens to the warnings issued by the US State Department and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and clarified to its citizens what these warnings and ‘code alerts’ meant.

In the case of the US 3 , the Canadian travel advice said: “The threat level for all commercial aviation operating in or destined for the United States has been raised to High (Orange). The country threat level remains Elevated (Yellow) for a terrorist attack. An elevated condition is declared when there is a significant risk of terrorist attacks.”

In the case of the UK, 4 the Canadian advisory noted the heightened security alert at all UK airports has been increased and additional security measures have been put in place for all flights. It urged Canadians to “check with their air carrier and/or travel agent to determine whether the situation will disrupt their travel arrangements and verify if there are new security measures.”

It did not specifically discourage travel to the UK. By contrast, the very specific wording of the travel advice to Thailand says, “You are advised against all travel to the far southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, and Songkhla (including the city of Hat Yai), where almost daily attacks continue to occur …..”

The US State Department 5 noted that “the Department of Homeland Security has also raised the threat level to high for all commercial flights operating in or coming to the United States. The situation remains fluid and is being covered widely by British and international media.”

It referred travellers to the websites of the UK Department for Transport (www.dft.gov.uk) and the British Airport Authority (www.baa.co.uk) and the U.S. Embassy in London  http://london.usembassy.gov).

However, the US advisory on Thailand 6 says: “The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to defer non-emergency travel to the far south of Thailand: Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Songkhla provinces, including the town of Hat Yai.”

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office 7 also noted the heightened alerts and security measures and disruptions to air traffic, urging travellers to remain in touch with the airlines and airports.

The wording of the Thailand travel warning which 8 “advise(s) against all but essential travel to, or through, the far southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla, where there is continuing violence due to insurgency and civil unrest.” Then it goes on to add, “There is a high threat from terrorism throughout Thailand.”

The tourism authorities of US and UK were also in different response modes.

As of yesterday, the official British tourist authority website www.visitbritain.org had made no mention of the events.

In the US, Travel Industry Association President & CEO, Roger Dow, issued a statement saying that the security announcement “reminds us that world intelligence-gathering is more effective and coordinated than ever to keep us safe.

“It’s appropriate for America to be on heightened alert at this time, but we also remind everyone that our best opportunity to counter our enemies is to encourage the world to meet Americans and experience our values and culture firsthand.

“We applaud the balanced approach articulated by Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff, Attorney General Gonzales and TSA officials stressing that while there will be delays due to heightened security, there is no need to cancel travel plans.”

1 http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/United_Kingdom

2 http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/thailand

3 http://www.voyage.gc.ca/main/sos/ci/cur-en.asp?txt_ID=829

4 http://www.voyage.gc.ca/main/sos/ci/cur-en.asp?txt_ID=830

5 http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/pa/pa_3005.html

6 http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1040.html

7 http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1155214925265

8 http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029390590&a=KCountryAdvice&aid=1013618386505

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