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Friday, November 20, 2015

Tourism, Terrorism and Tactics for Travelers: Nine Tips

In the wake of the recent terror attacks in France, Mali, and to some extent, Lebanon, travelers are once again faced with the question, "Should I stay or should I go?" I have a rather unique perspective on this issue. In addition to covering travel for the likes of CNN and other national outlets for more than 20 years, I assisted the Travel Industry Association of America* (TIA) in media outreach after 9/11.

Much of the effort to get people traveling again was focused on the international market. At the time, the Internet, was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today, and outlets like Twitter and Facebook, et al, did not even exist. Imagine that, Millennials.

Media messages, therefore, were mainly delivered via print and television. For international television outlets, I produced a video news release starring the President and Bill Marriott. The message--the USA was safe and open for business. I also wrote articles that were placed in international travel publications. For the domestic market, TIA tasked me with developing special See America travel supplements for USA Today. 

Three days after the recent attacks in Paris, I attended a media luncheon held in Washington, DC by Atout France, the country's tourism promotion arm. I was glad to see the event was not cancelled, as it sent a message that France was staying strong and carrying on. All travelers should follow suit. Yes, the U.S. State Department just put out a travel caution, but it really doesn't say anything new....and it certainly isn't very specific. For more on this, check out this op-ed from ETurboNews.

If you are considering a trip overseas, I would suggest the following:

1. Do check government websites for country-specific travel advisories and travel warnings. For Americans, the place to start is travel.us.gov.  At times, State Department travel advisories may be tinged by politics, so I suggest cross-checking. The Canadian government site is http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories, while the United Kingdom's advisories are housed at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice. The Australian government's website, http://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx, may offer added insight into countries located in southeast Asia.

2. Do consider staying at a non-Western hotel chain....or one that doesn't advertise its chain affiliation on its sleeve. 

3. Do buy travel insurance. If you have to nix a trip due to terrorism, or are stuck in a place because of events, travel insurance policies often cover trip cancellation and expenses borne from delays in getting home, including extra hotel nights and added flight costs. This USA Today story offers more details.

4. Do be vigilant. Be extra-aware of your surroundings. Avoid political demonstrations and mass gatherings.

5. Do be aware of anniversaries of political and/or controversial events within a country.

6. Don't publicize your nationality  

7. Always have a hard copy of emergency contacts with you. Include in the contact list the address and phone number of your country's closest embassy or consulate.

8. More advice from MI5, the United Kingdom's noted security intelligence agency, is here. 

9. In offering this last piece of advice, I must serve up a cliche, thereby making an exception to my rule of avoiding trite and banal phraseology. Here goes: If you stop traveling, the terrorists win. So, go, go, go.

*TIA was the predecessor to the US Travel Association.

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