Experts from tour operating and the charitable and legal sectors debated the often confusing topic of Foriegn Office travel advice at a Hill Dickinson law seminar. Ian Taylor reports
The Foreign Office (FCO) missed an opportunity in revising its travel advice last year and remains “too cautious”, according to leading industry figures.
Jo Kolatsis, partner and head of aviation and travel at law firm Hill Dickinson, said the advice “is pretty much ‘travel at your own risk’.”
She told a Hill Dickinson travel law seminar at the end of last year: “We asked the FCO ‘What does essential travel mean?’ and it said: ‘What does it mean for you?’ The FCO is a bit too cautious in the advice it gives.”
The FCO made changes last April, promising advice on terror threats would “be more descriptive, providing more information about the predictability, frequency, context and extent of attacks, as well as an assessment of the capacity of local security services to prevent and respond to attacks”.
This followed a five-week consultation with the industry in 2016.
Kolatsis said: “We accept that there is all sorts of intelligence behind it [FCO advice] and they are using better language.
“But they missed an opportunity to make it clearer.
“There is a global threat of terror that has been on the FCO website since 9/11. I’m not sure it’s any clearer than it was then.”
Cosmos chief executive Giles Hawke agreed, telling the seminar: “[Advice against] ‘All but essential travel’ is confusing. How do you define ‘essential’? Does it mean don’t travel or do travel?
“Maybe we need to go round again and get more people involved to try to come to a place where consumers can understand what the advice means and tour operators and travel companies can follow it correctly, rather than trying to interpret advice that isn’t clear.”
However, Kathy Atkinson, chief executive of industry charity the Safer Tourism Foundation, said: “The FCO can produce only one set of advice, which seeks to be as detailed and thorough as possible.
“It’s for those who use that advice to help interpret and make use of it, explaining what green, yellow or red [on an FCO destination map] means. It’s the caveats people need to be aware of.”
Operators urged to heed other countries’ advice
Operators should be cautious in following Foreign Office (FCO) advice if it is contradicted by other countries’ advice.
That is the view of Cosmos chief executive Giles Hawke, who said: “We go with the most cautious advice of a country where we sell. We follow FCO advice, but we’re an international operation.
“We aren’t featuring Egypt now. FCO advice says you can go to the bit of Egypt we would go to, [but] the New Zealand government has it as a no-go area. We can’t say: ‘We’ll take Brits.’ If something happens, people will say: ‘You weren’t selling it in New Zealand.’ You have to be cautious.”
Lawyer contests Sousse coroner’s security recommendation
A senior industry lawyer has questioned a recommendation of the coroner who headed the inquest into the deaths of 30 UK tourists in Sousse in 2015.
Hill Dickinson partner Jo Kolatsis said the recommendation that tour operators appoint security advisers at board level should “be looked at carefully”.
The inquest into the massacre at the Imperial Marhaba Hotel, Sousse, concluded last February with coroner judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith making two recommendations in July.
He suggested travel companies have “security advisers on their boards” and “make FCO information more readily accessible”.
Kolatsis said: “What about the SMEs of this world? Do they start hiring security professionals? The top-five Atol-holders can probably afford it, but for a tour operator with 10,000 passengers a year to hire a security professional?”
Cosmos chief executive Giles Hawke said: “It would be much better to have Abta, a body that operators subscribe to, do the work alongside the authorities.
“The last thing the authorities want is 50 different tour operator security advisers trying to get information.”
Kolatsis added: “We need a benchmark as guidance to say ‘This is the level we’ll all try to achieve based on the resource available and the intelligence from the FCO.’”
But Kathy Atkinson, chief executive of the Safer Tourism Foundation, said: “FCO travel advice is quite hard to find. Even when travel companies pinpoint the FCO landing page, [the information] is still quite impenetrable. There is work companies could do to help people make use of that advice.”
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