On Oct 3, 2010, the US Department of State put out a travel alert for Europe, citing terrorist threats to “public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure.”
This is not a travel warning. In a conference call to discuss the travel alert, Under Secretary Patrick F. Kennedy explained that “Well, we’re not saying don’t travel to Europe. We’re not saying don’t visit tourist — major tourist attractions or historic sites or monuments.”
In fact, the German Interior Ministry actually put out a statement which said it had no “concrete indications of imminent attacks.” It started looking like a big deal only after the UK backed up the US alert, and there have been no conflicting statements since from other European states.
This apparent disregard for US travel advisories by the subject of the alert is nothing new. It is something the State Dept has brought on itself, by crying wolf or flip-flopping one too many times on travel alerts and warnings.
Back in August, First Lady Michelle Obama made plans to visit Spain’s Costa del Sol for a 4-day visit with daughter Sasha and her friends. The only problem was that the State Dept had a travel advisory in place urging African-Americans to be careful in Spain because “Racist prejudices could lead to the arrest of Afro-Americans who travel to Spain.”
As the First Lady arrived in Spain, the State Dept quickly got rid of the advisory. It hasn’t been activated since. One can only assume that Michelle Obama’s visit somehow erased all racist prejudices overnight.
Also in August, the US updated its travel advisory for Israel with an additional warning about the Eilat area, and advised US citizens in Eilat and Southern Israel to “learn the location of the nearest air-raid shelter.”
Israel’s Ministry of Tourism went ballistic and responded with a sharp statement that said the advisory “undermines regional stability and the sense of security that Israel gives to everyone who enters the country.” The State Dept promptly backtracked and removed all mention of Eilat from the Israeli travel advisory.
And Mexico remains a perennial punching bag. Just before spring break 2010 when Mexico was gearing up for the influx of students, the State Dept pulled the rug out from under them by reissuing a travel alert for Mexico on account of crime and drug-related violence in Michoacan, Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango.
But the Mexican Tourist Board says foreigners can go anywhere. In fact, VisitMexico responded by running an ad campaign in the US & Canada that promotes 10 “Routes of Mexico.” And here’s the kicker – 4 out of these 10 routes wouldn’t be safe if you go by the State Dept’s travel advisory.
So while the state dept is busy sending out alerts advising US citizens to be careful about visiting these locations, they’re being advertised on cable tv and mass-market magazines.