— Alan Leibovitz
Tourists to Sri Lanka have reason to be concerned after bombings at churches and luxury hotels in the capital Colombo killed at least 310 people and injured more than 450 on Easter Sunday.
While local authorities in Sri Lanka appear to be aware of the threat to public safety, little warning has been issued to foreigners. However, that has all changed, with the UK government now warning on its foreign travel advice website that “terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka are likely”.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that security precautions have been strengthened across the island and security operations are ongoing. “This situation is likely to persist for several days and the situation remains dynamic,” the report said.
Likewise, the US State Department urged travelers to “exercise greater caution in Sri Lanka due to terrorism”.
“Terrorist groups continue to plan possible attacks in Sri Lanka. Terrorists may launch attacks with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transport hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, Places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other places. According to the State Department travel advisory, “public areas.”
For travelers already in Sri Lanka, U.S. authorities recommend being aware of your surroundings when visiting tourist attractions and crowded public places, following instructions from local authorities, monitoring local media for emergencies, and adjusting plans based on new information.
The Canadian government is urging its citizens to exercise a high level of caution on its travel advisory website.
“There are obvious safety and security concerns, or the safety and security situation may change with little notice. You should always exercise the utmost caution, follow local media and follow directions from local authorities.”
WorldAware, a global travel security consultant, said the attack on high-end luxury hotels in central Colombo showed that the attackers aimed to create an atmosphere of fear and insecurity, which could adversely affect business operations and drive away tourists and multinational companies.
“After the explosion, the government is likely to introduce precautionary security measures to prevent a sharp decline in tourism and minimize the departure of foreign businesses. Security may be enhanced at tourist attractions, high-end hotels and critical infrastructure such as ports, airports and train stations, ’ they noted in their security briefing. WorldAware also suggested the government could designate areas in Colombo and elsewhere as “high security” areas, limiting access to authorized government and security personnel.
What should a travel advisor know about travel risks?
For the most part, leisure travel advisors do not provide travelers with risk assessments, unlike their corporate counterparts, whose clients are subject to a duty of care.
Sam Davies, regional security manager for Australia at global travel security provider International SOS, told Skift: “The duty of care doesn’t apply to leisure travel in the same way it does to business travel. Going on holiday alone is often seen as choosing to accept risk, whereas business travel means the employer Put employees at risk and therefore have a responsibility to mitigate that risk.”
This means that the onus is directly on the leisure traveler to identify risks and ensure their own safety; therefore, most governments offer substantial resources to encourage travelers to register for travel using the US’ Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The Australian Government’s Smartraveller service similarly encourages travelers to register itineraries and contact details to help authorities contact them and their families in an emergency. By signing up, travelers also have access to a free email service that keeps them up-to-date on government travel advisories.
In addition to government services, many commercial operators offer advice and assistance, some for free. For example, Controlling Risk maintains an interactive risk map that identifies hotspots and disasters around the world.
International SOS works with many travel agencies around the world to support organizations and individual travelers in reducing risk and responding to emergencies, Davis said. One such service is the advanced TravelTracker platform, which sends travelers pre-trip advice and alerts them of any nearby events once their trip has begun. “It could be something you need to avoid, like a large protest planned for the next day, or it could be an emergency, like an impending hurricane or a terrorist attack,” he explained.
Putting the Sri Lanka attack in perspective
While events such as recent terrorist attacks dominate the headlines, Davis noted that there is a huge gap between perception and reality when it comes to security risks. “In our experience, most people’s perception of risk is closely related to news content, so topics such as terrorism and war are usually the most concerned issues. In fact, 1.25 million people die in road accidents every year, and More people are injured. Likewise, natural disasters affect many people every year, including business and leisure travelers, yet travelers or organizations rarely consider this serious risk,” he said.
The UK Foreign Office warns travelers to familiarize themselves with the risks of terrorism before leaving the country, but a terrorist attack is just one of several risks identified on the advisory website.
Other warnings include severe penalties for observing local customs and violating local laws, the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning in some areas, the risk of theft and crime, and the dangers associated with adventure sports.
“Always think about what you’re doing and trust your instincts. Don’t take risks you wouldn’t take in the UK,” the site advises.
Most government travel advisories recommend comprehensive travel insurance for all travelers, and travel agencies often sell insurance as part of their offerings. While insurance may not prevent problems, it can certainly help a stranded traveler.
As the Canadian authorities point out in a recent travel guide: “It is up to you to buy the best travel insurance you can afford and to understand the terms of the policy. Your travel insurance should include health, life and disability coverage, which is will help you avoid the cost of hospitalization or medical treatment outside of Canada.”
It appears that there is no legal requirement for travel advisors to ensure the safety of leisure travelers, but “doing their best for the customer” is a strong service requirement, and this should at least include directing travelers to freely available resources to help identify and mitigate risks.
Image credit: Control Risks’ Risk Map identifies travel hazards around the world. We show a portion of its global map here. control risk