Welcome to bat shit crazy land. BTW it isn’t safe here

Stuart Lodge of RoundTheWorldFlights has a followup piece on Tnooz to an earlier piece regarding the state of travel advisories given out by governments. He’s bringing attention to a new “traffic light” system that the British Foreign Office is testing out. As Stuart rightly points out, and as he quotes me as saying, it’s a grossly misleading way to do what, for all intents and purposes, should be fairly simple.

Naughty bus.

Naughty bus.

The “traffic light system” has five “states”

1) No restrictions in this travel advice
2) Avoid all but essential travel to part(s) of country
3) Avoid all but essential travel to whole country
4) Avoid all travel to part(s) of country
5) Avoid all travel to whole country

Nowhere (that I’ve seen) is a further explanation of each of these states given.

Three questions off the top of my head:
a) What do you mean by essential travel?
b) Which part(s)?
c) Does “No restrictions” mean it is safe?

I don’t want to get into the actual warnings as, to my mind, they’re often needlessly cautious and conservative, but rather to talk about what a travel advisory is actually supposed to do.

Give advice perhaps?

Stuart starts with the example of Yemen, which falls into a category 5 “Avoid all travel to whole country”, so I thought I’d compare it to Indonesia, which falls into category 1, “No restrictions in this travel advice”

Very first sentence in the Indonesia travel summary:

“Following the 15 April suicide bombing attack on a mosque in the West Java town of Cirebon, which left 26 people wounded, and a suicide bombing attack on a church in Solo, which left 20 injured, it is possible that further attacks could take place in the country.”

What? Sorry? Suicide bombings?

Second bullet point:

“There is a high threat from terrorism throughout Indonesia. Terrorist groups continue to plan attacks and have the capacity and intent to carry out these attacks at any time and anywhere in the country. “

Hang on, I thought you said it was safe?

Third bullet point:

“You should be particularly vigilant during holiday periods such as Easter, Christmas and Independence Day (17 August), which can be a time of heightened tensions in Indonesia.”

Fourth bullet point:

“You should exercise caution when travelling to Aceh, Central Sulawesi Province (especially Palu, Poso and Tentena), Maluku Province (especially Ambon) and Papua Province.”

Fifth bullet point:

“We advise you to avoid flying with Indonesian passenger airlines subject to the EU operating ban.”

Sixth bullet point:

“Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur regularly and tsunamis are possible.”

Seventh bullet point:

“Outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in Indonesia have led to over 100 reported human fatalities.”

Eighth bullet point

“Penalties for illegal drug importation and use are severe and can include the death penalty.”

Ninth bullet point

“You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.”

So just in case you missed it, the above means that Indonesia gets a green box highlighting that there are no restrictions at all regarding travel — which means it is safe right?

What the FCO seem to be saying is as long as you steer clear of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks, don’t travel during popular public holidays, don’t travel to four of Indonesia’s 30-odd provinces, don’t fly most of the airlines, do avoid volcanoes and tsunamis, don’t touch anything with feathers, do just say no and do call World Nomads, then you’ll be set — go the green box!

Phew, now that’s what I call no restrictions.

It’s about ten pagedowns before you reach something that is relevant and highly useful to the vast majority of Brits travelling in Indonesia:

Wear a helmet when on a motorbike.

Ignoring that piece of advice probably results in more British deaths annually in Indonesia than all the rest combined.

Travel advisories don’t need colour coding. They need useful actionable advice that pertains to Joe tourist who’s never been out of their home country before.

Advisories needs to be easy to read and digest and they need to be relevant to the people who are reading them.

Advisories need a readily accessible change log so “advisory watchers” can see, at a glance, what has changed.

Most importantly, they need to inform, not scare.