I just saw the news…should I be concerned?
It seems like it happens every Spring Break and Summer Vacation. A destination will start appearing in the news and like wildfire the stories and accusations begin rolling in. From food poisoning to terrorist attacks and murder rates, nothing sells news stories like fear. Inevitably, we’ll receive concerned calls from our clients wondering about news stories and destinations.
As travel advisors, we take our clients safety very seriously. But we also know that no destination is without crime. Our own neighborhoods and cities in the US have crime. We have yet to see a US home built without a front door lock. Since we can’t eliminate the possibility of crime around the World, what we can do is be proactive in designing trips with best practices in mind and helping our clients with personal safety tips (see other blog posts here).
But what about those news headlines?
Let’s be clear: this article was not written about any one location. But these are principles we share with clients EVERY travel season. The latest “dangerous” vacation spot rotates each season depending on what the news focuses on. Here are some things to think through when you are reevaluating your Vacation Destination and the News Stories:
Many times, when we talk to clients, they haven’t looked a at map of where they are staying and where the problem areas in the news are located. Most cities around the world have a bad area of town. This is not usually where clients are vacationing and is often where crime incidents happen. It’s important to realize the news often does not describe this accurately and you could be worried about crime that is happening several hours away from your hotel.
Many hotels, especially All-Inclusives, outside the US have more security than US hotels. Many of these hotels are gated with a forced security stop for checking in all vehicles. On top of that, many of these hotels are not open to the public are require paying for a day pass for a visitor. Because only paying hotel guests are actually at the hotel, there is a higher level of security built-in.
It’s very easy to be extra scared of locations we don’t call “home”. It surprises many Americans to learn that there are travel warnings in other countries about coming to the US. There have been international travelers who cancelled their travel to the US for places like Disney World due to fears of crime from our news. In addition, the US government does not assign travel warnings to US cities like they do for international cities. This means many Americans are closer to worse crime in their own hometowns than they are abroad but they have no idea. Sometimes it’s helpful to take a look at crime in the areas within 30-45 minutes of your home. You might be surprised what you live next to all the time without fear.
Sometimes there are a few incidents of crime that are linked in a news story over the course of several cities or even across years. This often gets reported with just the country name. Imagine if we reported all news for the US as the statistics for downtown Los Angeles, New York, Miami, or Chicago. This would not accurately represent the majority of the country by a long shot. The same is true of vacation destinations. A few incidents are not the same as an entire country having a problem. A resort may be facing some issues or even a particular city. However, even then, usually the vast majority of travelers to a destination do not encounter any issues.
Crime does happen everywhere. There is no completely “safe” destination in the world where you can never think about crime. Because of this, it is best to focus on what you can control, which is designing your trip with best practices. This often does not mean needing to switch countries. While it may make you feel better, we find most clients who switch countries pick a different destination that may have the same or worse crime statistics. Sometimes they switch to a US city with far worse crime statistics. We normally see most clients pick a new destination without consulting any crime facts at all but solely based on the news. This can be a very expensive way to pick a vacation destination and may not have any lower crime rates.
We never want to victim blame as it’s truly awful to experience something horrible on a vacation or to not have someone believe you when something terrible has happened. However, the way incidents are often reported can be highly inaccurate and more designed to sell news stories than help people. For example, all restaurants can potentially serve bad food. This happens in the US too. That’s not the same thing as “tourists are being poisoned by staff”. Or, someone being attacked is not the same thing as “a serial killer is on the loose attacking tourists.” Or, heart attacks really can just happen out of the blue to otherwise healthy people. This doesn’t mean their beverage was laced with drugs. These are often speculations or theories of problems without any substantiating facts or data. These events are terrible, but they may not always be reported in an appropriate manner.
Death doesn’t stop for vacation, unfortunately. While the timing is particularly horrible and thus highlighted, people have heart attacks or other fatal medical conditions on vacation just like they do at home. Just like at home, there may have been no prior warning signs or health concerns. People have freak accidents. They get in car wrecks. But if someone has a heart attack at home, no one asks “was their coffee poisoned!?!” When we travel, we are more likely to blame the place for the medical issue because it is different. We understand our familiar surroundings better. It’s important to remember that death and accidents happen in every location every day. As travel agents, we help people all over the globe when they get sick or hurt. It’s a big reason we recommend travel insurance. So, we often view these claims through a different lens that knows vacation doesn’t always mean a break from hardship…and there may not be anything abnormally wrong with the destination.
When news starts circulating, it can seem that there is a news story every day about something else awful. It can feel as though a vacation destination has gone insane with a sudden crime increase. Just because something starts to be in the news doesn’t mean there is actually an increase in crime or incidents. We don’t report EVERY bad thing that happens every day in our city. People are convicted of crimes every day in our cities that we know nothing about. Imagine if a reporter stood outside the court house and reported on every single criminal and crime conviction. You might be horrified, but the crime rate would not have changed where you were living. It would be exactly the same crime rate it had always been. But that isn’t how it feels. Those things are going on every single day in every city in America. We just don’t think about it. A destination rarely becomes unsafe overnight. Crime rates do change and are worth considering. But just because something is reported incessantly doesn’t mean crime has actually seen an uptick.
As travel agents, we have more history with a destination than most of our clients. One summer, Mexico will be in the news and everyone will get scared and asked to be moved to the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. The next summer, Jamaica will be in the news and we’ll be moving people to the Dominican Republic and Mexico. The summer after that, the Dominican Republic will be in the news and we’ll be moving people to Mexico and Jamaica. Don’t forget when we move people to domestic locations that then experience random shootings or hurricanes. Or when we move people to Europe and a terrorist attack happens. Each destination sees its day in the news. Each time people ask to be moved to a different destination that will be “too scary” when it hits the news cycle in a few months. The news sells fear. Facts are important.
Local and authentic travel have become very popular travel themes in recent years. The advent of accommodations like home rentals or sharing has opened up a largely unregulated market in many cities in areas where tourists historically have not stayed. While we believe in truly appreciating a destination, that doesn’t always mean it’s a good idea to do and stay wherever you want as a visitor to a country. Locals are often safer than tourists in local areas because they speak the language, are familiar with local customs and crime, and do not display the same wealth to make them a target. This means that staying in certain hotels or areas may be a better option for tourists than wandering around on foot or bike or renting a car and exploring without guidance.
We often have clients who show us a picture of a carefree backpacker in Europe doing something that we would not advise. Many pictures online don’t show the whole story of an experience and certainly shouldn’t be mistaken for best practices. Many cheaper accommodations, transportation, and tour options come with increased risks that are not shown in posts or blogs. It’s important that you talk to a professional travel advisor, not just someone who has travelled a lot in their experience. Travel advisors are trained in travel and have the experience of hundreds of clients and their colleague’s clients to reference.
Get the facts and talk to your travel advisor. They will have a wealth of experience beyond the news stories. Then, you will have to decide for yourself. Ultimately, it’s your vacation. No travel advisor can promise safety. There is no star rating on a hotel or tour that can promise nothing bad will ever happen. Crime happens. Accidents happen. That’s not ultimately in our control or anyone’s. We can only prepare you with the best practices to try to do everything possible for a great trip. In the event you do wish to change your vacation, your travel advisor can help you make wise adjustments and advise you of the costs incurred by making changes.
About The Traveling Compass:
The Traveling Compass is a full-service luxury travel agency. Our success is built on a foundation of unmatched expertise and outstanding customer service. Our travel agents specialize in international travel, corporate incentive trips, destination weddings & honeymoons, multigenerational travel, luxury leisure, and family travel. We are also Authorized Disney Vacation Planners with experience assisting families that have children with special needs or large families or groups with complicated dining reservations for over 20 guests. Our personalized travel itineraries are designed to help discerning, time-pressed travelers plan the most elaborate vacations, down to the smallest detail. As luxury travel agents, we are dedicated to creating and facilitating travel experiences that expand awareness and give each person a real sense of the country and culture they are visiting. It is our mission to make sure you have the travel experience of a lifetime, every time.