Sunday 17 February 2019

Holiday Safety Ratings: Would terrorism 'blue flags' for hotels and airports save lives?

Travel & terrorism

Holidaymakers view flowers left on Marhaba beach where 38 people were killed in a terrorist attack in June 2015 in Sousse, Tunisia
Holidaymakers view flowers left on Marhaba beach where 38 people were killed in a terrorist attack in June 2015 in Sousse, Tunisia
An empty beach in Tunisia. Photo: Getty
Martina and Laurence Hayes
A man prays after laying flowers on Marhaba beach where 38 people were killed on Friday in a terrorist attack in Souuse, Tunisia
Djema El Fna Square, Marrakech

Natalie Paris

The British travel industry is considering introducing kitemarks to denote the level of safety for different holidays.

The news comes after the publication of an inquest into the 2015 terrorist attack that killed 38 people, including 30 Britons and three Irish, in Tunisia.

Throughout the inquest, some families of the victims said their relatives would not have gone to Tunisia had been aware of UK Foreign Office warnings introduced following an attack on the country’s Bardo Museum three months earlier.

A survey of 6,000 people for the firm Travelzoo found that seven out of ten Britons are more worried about safety on holiday than they were two years ago.

The findings form the basis of a new white paper that looks for ways to improve on tourist safety, written by a tourism professor from Bournemouth University.

The report suggests that a global safety rating system would help allay the worries of holidaymakers wanting to travel to areas where there has been unrest in the past.

An empty beach in Tunisia. Photo: Getty
An empty beach in Tunisia. Photo: Getty

It suggests that issuing security kitemarks to hotels, airports and venues across the world would help British tourists who, it is claimed, are far more likely to do a general internet search on a destination rather than rely on official sources such as the Foreign Office’s (FCO) website when establishing whether or not it is safe.

“The [Sousse] inquest, and our white paper, shows we need better, easier-to-understand information on websites such as the Foreign Office and its counterparts in other nations,” said Richard Singer, Travelzoo’s European president.

“It also appears that most holidays are sold without any communication about the safety level of a destination until after the point of sale,” he said. “More proactive communication about FCO advice ahead of purchase would build trust."

The white paper revealed that for 97pc of people safety and security is the top concern when choosing a holiday destination, and worry about terror attacks far outweighs risk of disease, local crime and natural disaster.

“The ‘kitemark’ system we’re proposing is a quick and simple way of seeing if an airport or hotel has met a required set of safety and security standards, similar to the government’s cyber security kitemarks, or the systems in place for food or other goods,” Singer added.

“Ideally the system would work in tandem with improved destination advice for consumers on government websites, as well as increased proactivity from the travel industry in showing consumers this advice ahead of the point of purchase.”

Dr Yeganeh Morakabati, the author of the report, said:

“If it can be done with blue flags to tell us how clean beaches are, or certificates to let us know how environmentally friendly destinations are, then a kitemark system is certainly feasible to demonstrate how safe a destination, hotel or airport is.

“However, if these standards were in place, it would be important that implementation wasn’t just considered a box-ticking exercise; for instance, government policies would need to support any criteria set out in the kitemarks."

Lloyd Figgins, a travel risk expert and survival guide writer, said that Morocco was a destination that could benefit from having a safety kitemark.

“It’s north Africa so often gets tarred with the same brush as Egypt, Libya and Algeria,” he said, “but it hasn’t had a major terrorist attack for a number of years. This is partly because the security services and government there have actively working with imams in mosques to ensure that Islam is being accurately interpreted to people.”

Djema El Fna Square, Marrakech

Djema el Fna, Marrakech, Morocco

Figgins supports a discussion on how to improve travel safety for Britons and has also written to the Foreign Office to suggest that the government changes its travel advice system to be more like that used by the Australian government.

“The red, amber and green zones that we use are fine if you have a higher level of security knowledge,” he says.

“But the average person doesn’t understand these borders or lines. Is 5km outside of the line safe? Who knows. These lines are also not particularly accurate.”

He said that in Australia, the government’s safety assessment has four advice categories that make more sense to most travellers.

The lowest is “Exercise normal safety precautions”, followed by “Exercise a high degree of caution”, then “Reconsider your need to travel” and finally “Do not travel”.

“Take Tunisia,” he explained, “a ‘Reconsider your need to travel’ warning would not only have allowed people to make an informed decision about going there on holiday but it would also make it up to tour operators to justify why they are still sending people to a place where they are being asked to reconsider going.”

Read more:

Tunisia security slammed as 'shambolic and cowardly' as Irish terror victims remembered Revealed: How terror attacks are changing Irish holiday choices Mapped: Where is safe for Irish tourists to travel in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East?

Editors Choice

Also in Life