Yellow Light For Travelers
Headlines around the world are giving travelers fresh incentive to keep alert for warnings before venturing off to distant lands.
In the past three weeks alone, the State Department has issued 17 new or updated travel warnings and other statements to advise Americans of concerns in countries from A to Y Algeria to Yemen.
One was a worldwide caution that Americans abroad may be the targets of extremist groups tied to bin Laden's organization. Another warned about the dangers of travel in certain areas of the Philippines, where Muslim rebels last month abducted 20 tourists including three Americans, one of whom they claim to have beheaded.
The advisories are monitored by travel agents and tour companies, which combine that information with their own feedback from abroad in deciding whether to cancel or alter trips.
But ultimately, individual travelers make the final call.
Washingtonian Leslie Morgan, planning a three-week trip to China and Hong Kong with her 85-year-old father, jokes about ending up in a Chinese prison camp but shows no qualms about making the trip despite recent tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Most of the world is pretty friendly, Morgan, 50, said after visiting a passport office. But you check out the tours and you check out the warnings that the government puts out.
College student Brian Wendroff, planning visits to Europe and South America, said hed think twice about going to a country the State Department warned against.
I'd just kind of balance them and see if it's worth it, said Wendroff, a student at George Mason University in northern Virginia.
Tour company Saga Holidays, which has a tour of Nepal scheduled for September, says it hasn't gotten any calls from concerned travelers despite recent violence there sparked by a murderous royal rampage.
Saga plans to monitor State Department travel warnings before deciding whether to pull the tour, said Kerry Crisley, speaking for the Boston-based company.
If our customers are nervous or they're not able to see everything that's part of the service, then it might be worthwhile to postpone things, she added.
The State Department issued an announcement that strongly recommends that American citizens defer travel to Nepal because of unrest after the June 1 assassination of the king and other members of the royal family.
Such government announcements detail risks that may be confined to certain areas or are linked to a specific event, such as an anniversary that may stoke local anti-American sentiment.
These announcements are temporary and have expiration dates, unlike State Department travel warnings, which urge Americans not to visit certain countries and stand until further notice. At present, there are travel warnings in effect for 28 countries, and almost that many additional announcements.
Some foreign governments and tourism boards have accused the State Department of using its travel assessments for political reasons, criticism dismissed by Karolina Walkin, a spokeswoman for the agency's consular affairs bureau.
When it comes to the safety of American citizens, this is not an issue determined by political considerations but rather by safety and security issues, she said.
The agency put Israel on its warning list for the first time last October and issued an update earlier this year, warning Americans to defer all travel there because of heightened threat of terrorist incidents.
Geoffrey Weill, a spokesman for Israel's tourism ministry, called the warning very fierce, and said the government should change its wording so travelers don't feel they are being told what to do.
Other countries also offer their citizens advice on traveling abroad including trips to the United States. Britain, for example, includes special notes urging visitors to Florida to be vigilant about their personal safety and advising tourists in Cincinnati, the site of April rioting, to stay off the streets after the close of the normal working day.
Thanks to the Internet, travelers have instant access to a variety of travel assessments sometimes with dramatically different conclusions.
The State Department, for example, warns U.S. citizens against visiting Libya beause of hostility to the United States in some segments of the population and some elements of the Libyan government.
The Australia-based Lonely Planet, meanwhile, offers this: Despite the country's demonization in Western mass media, most travelers who have visited Libya report having a grand old time. The Libyan people enjoy a well-earned reputation for kindness and hospitality toward visitors.
Written By NANCY BENAC © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed