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Thu 1 Mar 2007 12:00 AM

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Middle East travel advisories fail to deter

A growing number of travellers are ignoring warnings by their governments to avoid visiting the Middle East But some Middle Eastern countries remain concerned that these advisories overplay the risk of danger or terrorism, and are actively working to have their travel advisory status downgraded.

A growing number of travellers are ignoring warnings by their governments to avoid visiting the Middle East

But some Middle Eastern countries remain concerned that these advisories overplay the risk of danger or terrorism, and are actively working to have their travel advisory status downgraded.

Some of the main culprits involved in issuing “over zealous” Middle East travel warnings include the UK, the US, Canada and Australia.

For example, the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against travel to specified regions in Iran, Lebanon, and Yemen, while Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade urges its citizens to exercise a “high degree of caution” when visiting countries such as Jordan,Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Australians are also advised to “reconsider their need to travel” to Saudi Arabia.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australia) spokesman said it had re-issued 550 updates on average each year since 2001, and maintained 160 destination specific advisories.Australia did not consider the impact on another country’s tourism industry when issuing advisories, he conceded.

“Protecting Australians and Australian interests overseas is a high priority for the Australian Government,” he said. “Countries for which we maintain a travel advisory may make comments to the media or formal representations about the content of the advice.”

Jordan Tourism Board (JTB), deputy managing director, Fayiz Khouri, said advisories issued against Jordan were constantly monitored.

“We have noticed that some countries are very cautious, not just towards [countries in the] Middle East, but to other parts of the world as well,” he said.

“Other countries hardly ever issue warnings.”

Khouri said the JTB provided up-to-date information to organisations issuing warnings.

He noted that reactions to travel warnings varied greatly: “In Spain, they (travellers) tend to react more quickly than other markets — they tend to be very cautious. But in general, the 21st century tourist is resilient; they are not going to be put off by general warnings. Tourism is booming.”

Haydn Long, PR manager at Australian travel agency chain, Flight Centre, said Australian travellers did take note of warnings, but did not rely on them exclusively when deciding where to travel.

“We find that travellers are extremely reluctant to cancel holiday plans if a problem arises,” he said.

The UNWTO, according to Qatar Tourism Authority chief executive Jan Poul N. de Boer, has already discussed the concept of standardised travel advisories.

“You really have to look at it on a country by country basis,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that people think the entire Middle East is not safe. I have never lived in a safer country than Qatar. The problem is that the perception becomes reality.”

De Boer said a uniform approach to travel advisories was required so that if a country met certain criteria, their safety warning would be downgraded.

“Qatar is booming, our tourism is coming into a mature phase, and we will soon have 11,000 rooms available,” he said.

“[We have] a lot of confidence that any travel advisories issued by any country will not deter people coming here.”

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