Safety while traveling is arguably the most important aspect of any trip, yet it is also a frequently misunderstood topic. Safety is key while on the road, but so is commonsense, a trait that is increasingly hard to find.
Earlier this year I discussed the security situation in Mexico. This has been a topic of heavy debate here in the United States, as more and more horrific stories of drug violence percolate through the American media. In that post, I described the problems occurring in Mexico and how many of the traditional tourist areas have been unaffected. Yet for so many people, it is the perception of violence more than an actual threat that seems to deter travel.
Over the weekend, an American tourist was violently killed while hiking in Israel. A horrible incident no doubt, but certainly not a common occurrence in this Middle Eastern nation. My fear though is that one, isolated incident will cause people to change their travel plans and not visit Israel.
Travel marketing is a strange beast. I do not work in the travel industry, nor am I a business person, but I have been an active observer for many years. It seems to me that travel decisions are often based more on fantasy than fact. People travel to concepts in most cases, rather than actual destinations. They seek April in Paris, or a trip through the Italian countryside; they don’t book cramped hotels in the 11th arrondissement or a tour of garbage piles in Naples. Travel is a conceptual purchase which is highly sensitive to negative imagery.
Just as people buy into an area’s image when they book travel, the same seemingly unrealistic negative perceptions also greatly impact their buying decisions. Take Mexico for example, almost all of the stories about the drug violence clearly states where these incidents have taken place – in the border towns. And yet so many potential tourists never look beyond the headlines and instead accept the false premise that Mexico is now a dangerous place. Ten minutes of research would show them that some of the country’s top tourist areas, such as Playa del Carmen and Cancun, have been untouched by this extreme violence and are as safe as any destination can be. When spending thousands of dollars, one must ask why the consumer does such a poor job when making travel decisions.
In many areas around the world, safety is what you make it. Being aware of your surroundings and staying alert will keep you safe in almost any situation. Yes, there are dangerous parts of the world and NO you should not go there. I have also discussed this in Dangerous Travel, and I think it’s a selfish conceit to travel to war zones just to say that you did. You owe it to yourself, and those around you, to travel safely whenever possible. With this ability to be self aware necessarily comes the ability to know what is and isn’t safe. The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico = Safe; Afghanistan = Not Safe. Israel = safe; Gaza Strip = Not Safe.
I know, it doesn’t seem like a massive intellectual leap to figure this stuff out, but for some reason most tourists have a tough time.
Travel itself is a scary process, which is ultimately why people buy into wholesale images of their destinations and why tourist destinations ultimately feed into their own stereotypes. There’s nothing wrong with that strategy and it obviously works. The same also works in reverse, unfortunately, when mainstream media or other outlets create negative stereotypes of these same destinations. Unfortunately, these false impressions take years to remedy, if they can repaired at all.