Travel “WARNING”
How realistic are State Department Travel “Warnings”?

Travel Warning
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Tunisia

How realistic are State Department Travel Warnings? Do they create fear?  Are they exaggerated? Are they also a means to avoid possible litigation in the event of a problem?

Let’s look at the case of Tunisia…

On September 11th, 2012, the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked and there was the tragic loss of life of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other State Department employees. On September 14th, 2012, the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and the American Cooperative School across the street were attacked, doing extensive damage to both facilities. The Tunis attack was by demonstrators who claimed they were protesting the same film that was said to have provoked the demonstrations elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Certainly, there is no justification for the actions that took place in Benghazi and in Tunis and the hope is that those responsible are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and that authorities in both Libya and Tunisia vow never to allow the security lapses that allowed for these attacks to take place.
Following these attacks, the US Embassy in both countries sent home all non-essential American employees (see the Warning for Tunisia on this link)
and issued a “Warning” on September 15th stating:
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Tunisia at this time. On September 14, 2012 the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Tunisia, following the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. The airport in Tunis is open and U.S. citizens are encouraged to depart by commercial air.”

While Americans represent a very small number of the travelers who come to Tunisia, such “WARNING”s resulted in nearly every university and affinity organization with plans on coming to Tunisia to cancel their plans, as well as thousands of other Americans, as well as American cruise ships who had port days scheduled in Tunis. The “WARNING” was subsequently moderated in October 2012 and again in March 2013, yet the “WARNING” (as opposed to an “ALERT”…which represents a lower level of security concern) still remains.
The United States has been very supportive in Tunisia’s drive for democratization since their January 2011 Revolution, but extending such a WARNING has been very costly in terms of Americans coming to Tunisia; spending money here on holidays, learning about Tunisia and more. No other country has a similar warning.
It is long overdue that such a warning be lifted and/or, downgraded to an “alert”. As a tour operator with operations in Tunisia and the only American company that has remained in Tunisia since the Revolution, we have always placed great importance on our clients’ security and are very well positioned to monitor security throughout the country.  We have American clients traveling around Tunisia at this moment and have been having Americans traveling…all of whom have been unanimous in their expressions of feeling secure. Embassies do not provide security as travelers go around a country, rather, this is a role ground operators play…and WE exercise this role with the utmost concern. All of which begs the question…are State Department “Warning”s exaggerated?
We want to share with you some of the activities that have been taking place in Tunisia during these last seven days…all of them in an atmosphere of security and without incident and all representing the real “normalcy” of life in Tunisia.

See if this looks like a dangerous country to you?  These photos are of activities within the last week…

Photos credited to “Les Foules du Megara”
Photos credited to “Les Foules du Megara”

Photos credited to "Les Foules du Megara"

Members of Tunisia’s Jewish community celebrating the holiday of Passover/Pesach

Members of Tunisia’s Jewish community celebrating the holiday of Passover/Pesach

COOKS, where Tunisians enjoy dinners, coffee and socializing, Facebook.com/cooksfood

COOKS, where Tunisians enjoy dinners, coffee and socializing, Facebook.com/cooksfood

 

"Le Plug" in La Marsa

World Social Forum in Tunisia, where more than 7000 people from several nationalities are here to speak about solutions for a better world

At TunisUSA, we always maintain vigilance when it comes to security, maintaining
a close watch on all activities in the countries where we operate. We wish to reassure our
clients that our programs are continuing in Tunisia, as you read this blog post and
we are here on the ground to answer any questions or concerns that you may have!

Helping Tunisia’s tourism rebound…an industry that employs over 500,000 people and represents over 7% of the country’s GNP, is one of the most helpful steps the United States can take at this time in Tunisia’s road to democratization.

Let’s remove the “WARNING” and stop frightening people who might otherwise wish to come to Tunisia!

 

Jerry Sorkin
Founder, TunisUSA
writing from Tunisia!

http://www.cntraveler.com/travel-tips/travel-specialists/jerry-sorkin

 

“Beware when visiting the United States… as potentially dangerous protests can erupt!”

Can you envision what would happen to the United State’s travel industry if the many foreign embassies posted such a warning on their websites?  Consider this statement…

Tent camps have been built in the center of cities by angry demonstrators who refuse to respond to police. Use extreme caution when walking in central shopping and business districts in the United States. Demonstrations can potentially erupt into uncontrolled civil disobedience!”

Or this one…

Protestors and demonstrators of the Occupy Wall Street campaign are using parks and business districts in US cities openly as their toilets, refusing to abstain from this action. Beware of the possibility of disease spreading!”

Or even more threatening…

Despite attempts by police with water hoses and horses to stop protestors, loud and emotional demonstrators in dirty clothes are blocking intersections and sidewalks preventing citizens from passing by. Remain vigilant when visiting major United States cities!

The tourism industry within the United States would be facing a major public relations problem and decline in revenues if these were the type of “alerts” that foreign embassies posted about the US on their websites. In fact, the descriptions above are representative of the situations that many of us witnessed in the US during the past months of the Occupy Wall Street protests!

Now, consider the fear that reaches American travelers when they read some of the “alerts”  or “caution” reports on US Embassy webites:

1)      “On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, currents are swift and dangerous, and there are few lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches. A number of U.S. citizens drown every year… due to riptides or sudden drop-offs while in shallow water…

2)      “Although U.S. citizens have not been specifically targeted in terrorist attack…within the past few years, travelers should remain vigilant.

3)      “…open borders allow for the possibility of terrorist groups entering and exiting the country with anonymity. You are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to your personal security and to exercise caution.

4)      “…The subsequent transition of power has been generally peaceful. However, recent night-time political demonstrations and social unrest have resulted in the police forcibly dispersing crowds. You should exercise caution, and avoid demonstrations and spontaneous gatherings.

5)      “ General elections, which were peaceful and transparent, took place on October 23, 2011 and a new government assumed office on December 23. However, political protests, work stoppages, roadblocks and other public disturbances still occur. Demonstrations have degenerated on several occasions into violent clashes between police and protesters, resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage. While demonstrations have not been directed toward foreigners, U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security.

 

All of the above are currently on US Department of State webites. American travelers frequently consult US Embassy websites and see “alerts”, “warnings” and “caution” reports. While the Department of State has an obligation to warn Americans of potential hazards when traveling, as travelers, we must also distinguish the level of constant threat that comes within a country when we see such words. The listings above, all of which are current are for the following countries: # 1 above is for Costa Rica, #2 is France, # 3 is Denmark, # 4 is The Maldives and # 5 is Tunisia. Without asking questions from other country specialists and doing further research, one might imagine Americans choosing not to travel to any of the above locations.

Having spent much of the past thirteen months in Tunisia since that country’s January 2011 Revolution began, the reports of foreigners or foreign institutions being attacked range from few to none!  Yet the above “alert” is the most recent posting on the US Embassy’s website for Tunisia, dated January 12th, 2012.

We have demonstrations and strikes in the US…which always carry the potential of erupting given the emotions of the disgruntled strikers. Our cities have crime statistics which report levels of gun violence that surpass nearly any industrialized country in the world. Yet, we hope foreign travelers use the same discretion and understanding that we, as Americans use, when we choose to go out at night in our own cities.

US State Department “alerts” and “warnings” are simply that…messages to alert us of possible problems. But these should be considered in proper perspective. Tunisia is NOT Syria!!!

Perhaps to someone who does not have a good pulse for world politics, or for someone who does not know their geography or simply has not taken the time to inquire…hearing about the very real problems that have been taking place in Syria is indeed, frightening and dangerous. We hear daily reports of killings, snipers, Syrian army attacks on local populations and the many, many horrors taking place at the hands of the Assad regime. To the uninformed, the tendency is to equate this problem to the entire Middle East and North African region?

The type of references about “safety” and “security” expressed in this video are a more realistic report of how recent American travelers found Tunisia’s atmosphere for travel.

 

Tunisia is not Syria…Yemen…or Libya. Tunisia is welcoming travelers from all countries with a  particularly warm welcome for Americans, as are most countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Always be cautious and attentive when traveling…but also, be realistic!  Travel safely!