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  • jeff2604

When Travel Advisors...Can't Advise

When it comes to advising travelers about the many risks inherent with traveling to another country, travel advisors can't advise much. Sorry, but we can’t. We do a lot of things, but when it comes to risk, all we can do is inform. The reason is that travel comes with risks in many forms, and we don’t know your personal risk tolerance. All we can do is point you to reliable information sources and encourage you to read them thoroughly and make you own decision.

From 2020-2022 the most common risk to worry our clients was COVID. The risk was real, the impact tangible. We informed our clients of the CDC guidance, travel restrictions, vaccine and testing requirements for the destinations they were considering, and then left it to them to make their own decisions. Many responded by cancelling trips or deferring their travel plans. Until they didn’t. Now that we are three years into the pandemic, people have adjusted their risk tolerance when it comes to COVID, and they are back to traveling. The prevalence of vaccines, treatments, and mutations in the virus that seem to make it less deadly have contributed to that shift, but so has fatigue over the constant fear and the desire to get on with our lives.

The demand for travel is higher now than it has ever been, and that has translated into full flights, full resorts, full cruise ships, and higher prices. It also means a greater risk of being bumped, having your luggage lost, dealing with missed connections and cancelled flights. As bothersome as those risks are, we are willing to live with them so we can travel. But what about when the risks are more tangible, more impactful as they were during COVID?

I’m referring to the recent reporting about Americans who were violently kidnapped in Mexico. Does that incident make Mexico a place to be avoided? The media would certainly have you think that. Mexico is a popular topic for their travel related fearmongering, largely because of the risk of getting caught up in drug-related gang violence. Before that it was Jamaica, also because of drug-related gang violence, and before that it was the Dominican Republic because of fear over tainted liquor.

Each of those story lines involved real incidents that reflected real risks, but the reporting was misleading. Whether intentionally or through sloppiness, the media conflated unrelated incidents to feed a narrative that made the risks seem greater than the facts supported. And we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Americans increasingly turn to social media posts for our news, without employing the critical reading and thinking skills necessary to filter out the crap and get to the facts. We let our emotions take control and become victims of the amygdala hijack (google it).

The Mexico story started a few weeks ago when news broke about four Americans who were violently kidnapped after being identified as rival gang members. It was a tragic case of mistaken identity. Two Americans died in the incident so yes, it was violent, and they were innocent victims which makes it all the more tragic. On the cusp of spring break travel, officials in Texas issued a travel warning advising spring breakers to avoid traveling to Mexico. Their warning was driven in no small measure by that incident, but it was supported by ongoing drug-related gang violence in the border towns popular with spring breakers.

The latest headline I read in my newsfeed this morning screamed in all caps, “ANOTHER American Goes Missing in Mexico.” Context is important when it comes to reading anything the media reports…you have to drill deep into the details behind the headlines to get the full story. The kidnapping incident I read about this morning wasn’t something that happened over the weekend…it happened in early February. It represents yet another example of conflating unrelated incidents, but this one is even worse than usual.

The headline said “ANOTHER American” but the kidnapping victim was a Mexican citizen, living in Mexico, far from any of the popular tourist destinations. The victim held dual citizenship and lived in the U.S. for years but recently retired to Mexico, which I suppose is what gave the writers license to come up with their headline. The FBI has gotten involved because the victim held dual citizenship, and they report that incident doesn’t appear to be related to drug or gang violence. None of that makes the incident less tragic, but it does make the story less relevant when it comes to understanding the risks that most American tourists face when they travel to popular Mexican resort towns.

In the same newsfeed this morning I read another headline that is more relevant to Americans traveling, and much closer to home. It was a story about Miami Beach city officials imposing a curfew on spring break revelers because of two shooting incidents over the weekend that killed two people and injured four more. According to Miami Beach police, there have been 322 arrests on a variety of charges since the beginning of the 2023 spring break period, and more than 70 firearms have been confiscated. The incidents in Miami Beach this weekend were violent and at least one occurred in the middle of a crowded St. Patrick’s Day street party. Fear did not stop the spring breakers from returning to the same location the next night…the party went on. But for some reason, Americans quick to return to the scene of violence when it happens in this country, are just as quick to avoid vacation destinations in another country when a violent incident is reported. Even when the reported incident occurs far from popular tourist destinations and the surrounding facts have nothing to do with the typical American tourists on vacation.

I wouldn’t dream of going to a Mexican border town caught up in the middle of drug-related gang warfare for any reason. I also don’t go to Baltimore anymore. I used to love going to the stadiums, the Meyerhoff, the Lyric, and the Hippodrome, but my personal risk tolerance for the type of random violence that has become all too common in Baltimore is low. Janet and I socialize with people who don’t understand that. They don’t think twice about going to Baltimore, their desire to enjoy the many attractions Baltimore offers outweighs any concern they have about getting caught up in random acts of violence. That’s what I mean about personal risk tolerance.

I’m not advocating that you ignore official travel warnings, nor am I minimizing the risks associated with traveling to some parts of Mexico. To the contrary. I’m just pointing out the need for context. Read the advisories and warnings. Some parts of Mexico are dangerous for travelers, just as some parts of this country are, and the State Department travel advisories identify those areas. Travelers would be wise to heed the warnings, but equally wise to understand the full context that goes into them when making their travel plans.

Don’t let yourself become the victim of a media-driven clickbait amygdala hijack. There are plenty of real risks to be concerned with when it comes to travel, whether it be to downtown Baltimore, Miami Beach, or an international destination. Read the State Department travel advisories and warnings, know the risks, understand them, and make your own decisions based on your personal risk tolerance.

I’m still not going to Baltimore anytime soon, but I was just in Mexico on a cruise a few weeks ago. Our ship carried 6,000 passengers and I didn’t hear of a single incident of violence or crime involving any of them during our port call in Mexico. Does that make Mexico “safe” for you? I can’t tell you that…you have to make those decisions for yourself. The only advice I can give is not to rely on social media for guidance on travel risks…go to enter your destination, read carefully and completely, and then decide for yourself, based on your own personal risk tolerance.

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