Select Committee on Foreign Affairs First Special Report


Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the Travel Advice System (8 January 1999)

  Over 45 million UK residents travelled overseas last year. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) attaches great importance to providing travellers with accurate and timely assessments of any risks they may face.

  FCO Travel Advice is based on objective assessments of the risks to British nationals. It is not influenced by trade or political considerations. The safety of British travellers is the FCO's paramount concern. The travel trade value and respect Travel Advice. Other governments, for example in the European Union, hold it in high regard, regularly drawing on it and consulting the FCO about setting up their own similar systems.

  The FCO runs a Travel Advice Unit in its Consular Division with a full time staff of four, supervised by a senior manager. Travel Advice warns British nationals of risks to their personal safety and security overseas. It draws on a variety of sources including the local knowledge and experience of the FCO's overseas Posts. It is automatically reviewed monthly, and following each significant incident. In a developing crisis the advice is often updated daily, or even more frequently. More than 1,000 Travel Advice notices covering over 150 countries were issued in 1998.

  Travel Advice provides practical and up-to-date advice to allow British nationals to make their own informed decisions about travel. It only advises against all travel to a destination when risks to personal security are very high. If necessary, specific locations within a country are identified as areas to avoid (see, for example, the Travel Advices for India, Russia and Turkey).

  The advice is exactly that: advice. HMG cannot stop British nationals travelling to a destination against such advice. In the highest risk cases the FCO make every effort to contact all individuals it believes to be in a country where it is advising against travel in order to try to persuade them to leave (recent examples include Afghanistan, Chechnya and Iraq).

  The FCO works closely with the travel industry in disseminating Travel Advice. It is posted on the Internet (regular users can register to be automatically notified by e-Mail of all updates of Travel Advice) and on BBC2 Ceefax pages 470 onwards; it is issued by fax; and it is available by telephone from the Travel Advice Unit (advice on the most popular tourist destinations is on a recorded message) and from the FCO's Posts overseas. Significant changes to Travel Advice are publicised in press statements. The FCO encourages travel agents to draw Travel Advice to the attention of their clients and is always looking for cost effective means to extend its dissemination.

  Travel Advice for Yemen was revised on 20 December (following air strikes against Iraq); and on 29 December following the violent end to the kidnapping; the 20 December advice warned of continuing tension in the region and advised British nationals to keep in touch with developments; it also warned of the risk of random kidnapping throughout the country; it stated that "abductions had taken place at gunpoint but that those abducted had generally been well treated and had eventually been released unharmed after mediation". This was an accurate reflection of the situation up to that point; travellers were advised to register with the British Embassy at Sana'a who provided additional, more detailed advice on travelling within the country; from 29 December it has advised against all non-essential travel to Yemen.

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Prepared 9 January 2001