Ignorance, Fear and Travel

15 May

This is NOT Chechnya

This is NOT Chechnya

As I travel around the world I get to talk to a wide range of people. As you would expect, many of them have some affiliation with the travel and tourism industry. I speak to tour guides, representatives of national tour boards, waitresses, hotel managers and even the cleaning staff.

One questions I always ask is how tourism is doing in their particular country or region. Some places are up, some are down and some are very dependent on visitors from another particular area. If the area where the toursits come from suffers economic problems, then the destination will suffer as well.

Back in 2010 I had a front row seat to major political protests in Bangkok, Thailand. During the protests many travel experts, including the legendary Arthur Frommer, were advising people to completely avoid Thailand. With the information I had on the ground, I could see for myself that other than a few square blocks in Bangkok, nothing was happening in Thailand. People who weren’t there were making judgements based on what they saw on television and then extrapolated that to the entire country.

…but at least something was happening in Thailand. While I disagreed with Arthur Frommer’s assessment of of the situation, I at least understood why he was taking the position he did.

In the last few weeks, however, I’ve noticed people making judgments based on a complete and total ignorance of the world.

The most spectacular recent example are the people who, after the identities of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects were released, didn’t know the difference between Chechnya (a predominantly Islamic region of Russia) and the Czech Republic (a predominately Catholic country in Central Europe). To make matters worse, many people called it Czechoslovakia, a country which hasn’t existed for over 20 years.

The last two weeks I’ve been exploring the country of Jordan and the story I’ve heard from people all over the country is that tourism has dropped dramatically since the Arab Spring events started in 2011. Violence broke out against regimes in many Arab countries including Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain and Syria. In some countries, in particular Libya and Syria, the violence was/is so great that it is advisable for travelers to stay away.

Jordan and other Arab countries which didn’t sufferer anything like what happend Libya or Egypt were lumped together because they happen to be in the “middle east”. People canceled travel planes to Jordan based on what was happening in Syria. People avoided Dubai because of events in Egypt.

It boggles the mind.

It is true that countries like Jordan and Turkey have been unwillingly effected by the conflict in Syria. 100,000′s of refugees have flooded into both countries. The thing is, they fled there because both countries are safe and stable.

One of the worst things you can do is to paint with an unnecessarily broad bush. “The Middle East” is just a geographical abstraction. I’ve been to many countries in the region and they are all different. They have different governments, ethnic and religious makeups, histories and geographies. What happens in one country (or even city) shouldn’t necessarily impact travel decisions.

I don’t necessarily advocate traveling to dangerous places, but you should make an effort to find out the specifics of where you are planning to travel and not lump together countries which have nothing to do with each other.

If you don’t make informed decisions, you do things like suggesting we invade a country that hasn’t existed for two decades because of some kids who come from a similar sounding place 1,000′s of kilometers away.

Ignorance, Fear and Travel


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