The dreaded “Travel Warning”

How realistic are State Department Travel Warnings? Do they create fear?  Are they exaggerated?

On September 11th, 2012, the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked and there was the tragic loss of life of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other State Department employees. On September 14th, 2012, the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and the American Cooperative School across the street were attacked, doing extensive damage to both facilities. The Tunis attack was by demonstrators who claimed they were protesting the same film that was said to have provoked the demonstrations elsewhere in the Muslim world.

Certainly, there is no justification for the actions that took place in Benghazi and in Tunis and the hope is that those responsible are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and that authorities in both Libya and Tunisia vow never to allow the security lapses that allowed for these attacks to take place.

While Americans represent a very small number of the travelers who come to the Middle East, such “WARNINGS” resulted in nearly every university and affinity organization with plans on coming to the region to cancel their plans, as well as thousands of other Americans and American cruise ships who had port days. The “WARNING” was subsequently moderated in October 2012 and again in March 2013, yet the “WARNING” (as opposed to an “ALERT”…which represents a lower level of security concern) still remains.

The United States has been very supportive in the drive for democratization since their January 2011 Revolution, but extending such a WARNING has been very costly in terms of Americans coming to the region; spending money here on holidays, learning about the region and more.

The issue becomes that if one country in the region has an issue or an ALERT or WARNING Americans will stop traveling to any place in the region.

It is long overdue that such a warning be lifted and/or, downgraded to an “alert”. As a tour operator with operations in the Middle East and North Africa I have always placed great importance on my clients’ security and am very well positioned to monitor security throughout the countries where are clients travel.  We have American clients traveling around Jordan, Morocco, Iran, Tunisia  at this moment and we have been having Americans traveling…all of whom have been unanimous in their expressions of feeling secure. Embassies do not provide security as travelers go around a country, rather, this is a role ground operators play…and WE exercise this role with the utmost concern. All of which begs the question…are State Department “Warning”s exaggerated?

Here is an advisory on Iran that has been in place for quite awhile- we have been taking clients into Iran and have not had any problems. We take them as individuals and also as groups – not one person has complained that they were ill-treated or felt threatened in any way.

Iran

December 07, 2012

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran. Dual national Iranian-American citizens may encounter difficulty in departing Iran. U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and carefully consider nonessential travel. This replaces the Travel Warning for Iran issued April 27, 2012 to add additional contact information for the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran.

Jordan

March 28, 2013

Demonstrations in Ma’an and nearby Desert Highway

Due to an ongoing security situation in and around the city of Ma’an, the U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens to avoid Ma’an as well as the Desert Highway near Ma’an until further notice.  The situation in and around Ma’an remains tense following last night’s closure of the Desert Highway by scores of rioters following the renewal of protests over the killing of a youth following a security pursuit in the Al-Husayniyah District.

For travel between Amman and Aqaba, U.S. citizens should avoid the Desert Highway and instead utilize the Dead Sea Highway or the King’s Highway.  Travel to Petra along the Desert Highway from Amman remains unrestricted.

We have people in Jordan right now and have been having regular people in the area almost every couple of weeks and no issue to deal with.  I myself was there with a group of doctors and we saw no reason for anyone to be scared of traveling in this area.

Traveling in the Middle East and North Africa is like traveling anywhere in the world – you need to be careful and aware of your surroundings, but you should also do this when in your country of origin.  No different.  Just use common sense, but do not stop yourself from traveling.  If there really is a scare or something is happening in one of the countries that I deal with I will be honest and let the clients know that it is not the time to travel there.  I will not risk a client’s life just to sell a tour.

Rita Zawaideh

Owner/President of Caravan-Serai Tours

 

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