Freep - State Department's warnings leave out a lot. Other countries offer more help.
State Department's warnings leave out a lot
Other countries offer more help
BY CAROL PUCCI • SEATTLE TIMES • November 9, 2008
Seasoned travelers know that it pays to look beyond information provided by the U.S. State Department on its Web site (www.travel.state.gov) when it comes to advice on visiting other countries.
Information published on the government Web sites of Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom tends to be more detailed, up-to-date, easier to find and more useful in terms of specific areas.
How and when the State Department decides to issue an official warning -- a recommendation that Americans avoid travel and a critical blow to any country's tourism industry -- has always been controversial.
Critics question how much politics and economic considerations come into play, and how frequently the government reviews the situation once it puts a warning in place.
Indonesia, a country where many tourists travel with no problems, was on the list for years until last May due to bomb attacks between 2002 and 2005. India, where more than 140 have died in bombings in four cities since May, is not on the list.
Political developments have been ongoing in Thailand since Sept. 2, when anti-government protests caused then-Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to impose a state of emergency in Bangkok. He was forced to resign, and his replacement, Somchai Wongsawat, lifted the decree on Sept. 14. On Sept. 17, lawmakers elected him the new prime minister, setting up a showdown with protesters who opposed his appointment.
The Sept. 2 events, while mostly limited to the prime minister's compound and nearby areas of Bangkok, briefly shut down airports in southern beach resorts, and caused governments around the world to issue travel advisories.
The U.S. State Department didn't add Thailand to the 28 countries on its travel warning list, probably the right move considering the circumstances. But neither did it issue a travel alert, a second-tier advisory reserved for short-term situations -- storms, potential terrorist threats or, by the State Department's own definition, "election-related demonstrations or violence" that might pose some risk.
Travelers looking for information had to know to click through to "Country Specific Information," go to "Thailand," and click on "Recent Embassy Notices for American Citizens." Not only was the information brief and hard to find, it was quickly outdated.
More helpful and user-friendly is the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Web site, www.smartraveller.gov.au.
Australia's advice on Sept. 2 was to "exercise a high degree of caution" in Thailand overall and "not to travel" in the southern provinces. It updated its report on Sept. 17, noting that the emergency decree was lifted.
Canada (www.voyage.gc.ca) uses a four-tier rating system that also includes region-specific advice. For Thailand, it too recommended "a high degree of caution" overall, and advised against travel in the southern provinces. It updated its report on Sept. 16.