It is interesting, when one is about to travel abroad, to check the travel advisories published by Canadian and other governments. I say “interesting” because at times up to 40% of the 150 or so countries listed have an “exercise a high degree of caution” warning. But what does this mean and how reliable are these warnings when you see countries like France and Belgium being given the same level of travel warning as Haiti?
A recent travel ban issued by the Canadian government, with regard to Haiti took my attention because I had been traveling in Haiti during the time of the travel ban. What I witnessed during that time was a few peaceful demonstrations against the government. Everywhere else, as usual, was peaceful and placid in Haiti and reflecting the fact that Haiti has one of the lowest crime rates in the Caribbean.
As a result of the above I decided to do a little research and I found that the elevated Haiti travel advisory was a result of the robbery of two women who unfortunately and naively took a cheap, unauthorized and unmarked taxi cab from the airport to their hotel. Fortunately the worst that happened was that the women were “relieved” of their money and other valuables and then dropped off in a “strange” part of Petain Ville in Port-au-Prince. These two visitors to Haiti did NOT exercise normal common sense which is required when travelling in any big city. Unfortunately for the Haitian tourist industry the travel warning was elevated, even though this incidence could have happened in any big city including New York, Toronto, Beijing or London.
My point is that travel advisories should be taken as a starting point rather than the final word on travel safety in a country. A wider perspective is needed when understanding travel advisory levels. To start with there are many factors that may affect travel advisory levels. For example if there is a diplomatic feud between two countries there may be a tendency to raise travel alerts to a country simply as a retaliatory action. The travel advisory in these cases has generally nothing to actually do with the safety of travel within the country.
In this age of global instant communication there is no excuse for not seeking alternative and wider perspectives than government travel advisories. For example seek information from others familiar with (travel agents etc) or working within the country, such as, international development workers. In addition, you can listen to the English service of the country in question to gain a wider and balanced view of travel safety. Keep in mind also that the highest risk for injury in a third world country is a vehicle accident, but that is a topic for another time.