Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

As we edge closer to the end of a fairly turbulent year, we thought it would be interesting to ask some travel experts where we should go and where we should avoid in 2017.

If your destination is not covered in the information below, there is a decent chance it features somewhere on the website – use the search box in the top right of the screen to find out more before you set off.

Government travel advice

The following are links to each nation’s travel advisories. Click through and search to find out more about your next travel destination. The advisories are updated regularly and, as they represent slightly different viewpoints and interests, we recommend reading a couple to get a decent idea of what your destination is like.

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Expert Advice: Where should we go and where should we avoid in 2017?

stirling-assynt

Katrina Burns at Stirling Assynt

Email : info@stirlingassynt.com
Website: https://www.stirlingassynt.com/
Twitter: @stirlingassynt

Stirling Assynt is a global business intelligence and country risk management network headquartered in London and run by a team of professionals with significant commercial and government sector expertise in higher-risk countries. Our value is in giving reasoned assessments of threats and explaining the implications of political and terrorist developments. The service we provide allows our clients to be better informed and thus able to address complex challenges in difficult regions, and our predictions are consistently proved to be credible and accurate.

Where should we avoid?

The threat level to Turkey increased substantially in 2016, during which at least nine attacks – either by Kurdish militants or Islamic State (IS) – took place in cities outside the traditionally restive southeast. The risk the country faces will increase further next year, not least because in early November IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urged the group’s supporters to carry out more attacks in Turkey. This was intended to warn President Erdogan to scale back Ankara’s intervention against IS in northern Syria. This has not had the desired effect, and so there is a real risk that the group will seek to impose a domestic cost on Turkey for its continued military operations in Syria. It will therefore likely seek to carry out high-profile and mass casualty attacks that also cause economic damage over the next year. Such strikes are most likely to occur in Istanbul, Ankara or Gaziantep – and potentially also in western coastal resorts. These could target civilian, foreign and Government interests and include sieges of hotels or shopping malls.

The major double bombing against security personnel policing a football match in Istanbul on 11th December by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) – the hardline urban wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – also illustrates that Kurdish militant groups will present a growing threat to urban centres in the coming year. Kurdish militants want to punish Ankara for its ongoing operations against militants in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, and for its crackdown on elected Kurdish politicians. However, the Government is unlikely to change course, and so further large-scale bombings in Ankara and Istanbul are likely in the coming months. These are unlikely to target foreign nationals or businesses, but the decision to strike near the stadium in Istanbul illustrates that TAK is prepared to inflict high collateral damage. This will significantly raise the risk to foreigners in major cities outside the southeast, and the threat will increase in the event that Turkish-backed forces in Syria advance on Manbij, which is under the control of Kurdish militants.

Where should we go?

Morocco has not suffered from the jihadist violence that has beset other countries in the region, notably Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, despite the fact that large numbers of Moroccan nationals are sympathetic to IS’s global jihadist agenda and have joined the group in Iraq and Syria. This is largely because of Morocco’s effective security forces and because IS has not committed significant resources to the country and so does not have an organised presence there. The group typically focuses its activities where it can trigger instability by fomenting social unrest and anti-Government sentiment, and is most able to do this in countries with long-standing ethnic or religious tensions, a history of jihadism and active militant groups. Morocco lacks these conditions and has maintained its political stability since the Arab Spring, and so IS has prioritised other North African countries.

That said, there is a persistent, low-level risk of very occasional unsophisticated gun, knife or bomb attacks by individual IS supporters (similar to those that have taken place in Western Europe in 2016) which could target sites popular with foreign tourists, as well as Government and security interests. Despite this, the overall risk from terrorism in Morocco is low, and the country will also remain largely politically stable in the coming year. It therefore remains a generally safe place for foreigners to visit.


Travel Operative

Email: editor@traveloperative.com
Website: www.traveloperative.com
Twitter: @travel_ops

The Travel Operative is a website produced by people who have spent many years working behind the scenes in the security domain. Together with their extensive travel experiences, they provide free detailed analysis of location-specific threats and security insights for travellers.

Where should we avoid?

Our team is based in Southeast Asia and we are comfortable travelling to most countries in the region. There are several locations we consider to be higher risk than others so we are telling our family and friends to avoid the Philippines. President Duterte’s crackdown on crime, drugs and terrorism has seen mixed results. The bombing attempt on the U.S Embassy in November underscores the terrorist threat in Manila.

We have some adventurous friends and the southern part of the Philippine archipelago are popular destinations for diving and snorkelling. Cebu Island is a launch pad for some of the world’s best snorkelling and diving attractions. In November 2016 the U.S Embassy warned of an increased kidnapping threat to U.S citizens (read all Westerners) on Cebu Island. This warning expands the kidnap threat area beyond the province of Mindanao, which is an extreme risk area due to Abu Sayyaf terror group operations. As a result, we are telling our family and friends to postpone their trip to the Philippines, particularly the south of the country.

Where should we go?

Sticking with the Southeast Asia theme we are recommending two emerging destinations, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Vietnam’s burgeoning tourism sector has seen the rapid development of hotel chains, tour providers and supporting infrastructure. From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, cities throughout the country are becoming very tourist friendly. The threat of terrorism, kidnapping and crime rate are all low. We are telling our family and friends to follow in Barack Obama’s footsteps and consider a trip to Vietnam.

Sri Lanka emerged from a 25 year civil war in 2009 and the security environment has since improved considerably. The country is now attracting many leading hotel chains who have commenced the development of resorts across the island. We believe that Sri Lanka is a great alternative to India which currently has a significantly higher threat profile and is a major target for terrorist organisations. Sri Lanka’s low-key, relaxed beach lifestyle and improved security environment makes it an attractive introduction to South Asia.


Griffin Birch

Stuart Birch, Director at Griffin Birch

Email: stuart@griffinbirch.com
Website: www.griffinbirch.com
Twitter: @Griffin_Birch

Griffin Birch helps organisations with their employee safety overseas, focusing on the medical, security, and consular risks for business travel and assignment. In this changing world, Griffin Birch can help your organisation to assess and quantify the risks you and your people face, strategically plan to mitigate them, evaluate how existing services and insurances can be used more effectively, and dovetail this into your existing contractual structure.

Where should we avoid?

I believe people travel to ‘dangerous’ places all the time, with no real awareness of what makes those places dangerous, and in the main we all get lucky. So rather than proclaiming where to avoid, I will suggest a few locations whereby a change in your view of the destination will help you to keep safe.

A little more preparation and research before travel will ensure that you manage the additional risks that exist today, without simply ‘locking down’ your plans and staying at home. A racing car has strong brakes not to stay still, but to stop quickly when needed – we should adopt a similar philosophy in travel risk management.

For example, Turkey has become a more worrying place to visit, so if you’re still looking for that Arabic-influenced mix of cultures, might you consider Morocco as an alternative? If you wish to visit the sub-continent, perhaps Sri Lanka presents fewer risks than India? And if South East Asia is calling you, then why not look at Vietnam or Malaysia rather than Thailand?

There are still (I hope) obvious places to avoid, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and so forth, unless you have a particularly strong reason to be there. However, there are some destinations that may require special consideration, due to the change in their presentation of risk to travel:

  • France – It may be a surprise, but poor France will continue to be a European focus of terrorism. Vigilance, awareness, and emergency plans are recommended.
  • Eastern European states – the expansionist policies of Russia’s current government may manifest again within 2017, and neighbouring countries, already feeling the tension, may begin to experience unrest.
  • Mexico – Mexico City has become far more risky as a destination in 2016 and this is not set to improve during the coming 12 months. If you must go, use accurate intelligence and alerts, relevant to the regions you will be visiting, and have your plans in place beforehand.
  • USA – despite the fact that I will be taking my young family to Texas in February, I urge caution and a heightened level of awareness to all travelling to the US within 2017. We may have only seen the beginning of the effects of a politically-divided nation, and vigilance is recommended as the handover of power in Washington takes effect.

As private or individual travellers, we have choices on our travel destinations. Use of good information and preparation beforehand enables us to travel relatively unimpeded, as long as risk is recognised. For the corporate traveller, don’t let a mandated travel requirement lead you to accept the risks without consideration, or to believe that others will arrange every aspect of your personal safety.


 

Saul at beTravelwise

Website: http://betravelwise.com/
Twitter: @betravelwise
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/betravelwise

beTravelwise provides training and education to promote safe travel. It has training courses designed to support organisations in their travel risk management programmes. A fully blended approach allows the learner to receive engaging training appropriate to the health, security and travel risks they may face.

Where should we avoid?

If you or your partner are pregnant or planning on getting pregnant in next year avoid any countries where there is a risk of contracting the Zika virus.

Where should we go?

Iran.  We don’t know what might happen during the next US Presidency so if you have always wanted to go to Iran now is your time.  There are direct flights from London and a warm welcome and a wealth of history waiting for you on arrival.  Debunk some myths – it is not nearly as broken a country as you might believe.  Enjoy it in case it is shut down again, and before too many people start going and the hawkers and rip off artists command enough English to ruin the experience.

The only real danger you face is on the roads – don’t self-drive, sit in the back and wear a seatbelt.  Also be careful as a pedestrian. Crossing roads can be lethal with traffic coming from all directions and don’t relax when you reach the pavement or you’ll be run over by a motorbike.

[Note from Safe Travels Magazine – We strongly advise you check travel advice for travel to Iran before booking your trip. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office warns that visitors can be subject to arbitrary detention and that providing consular assistance can be challenging. The Iranian authorities do not recognise dual nationalities and dual national detainees will not be offered consular assistance. Please consider your potential risk factors fully before planning a trip.]

 

Michael Baney at Allan & Associates

Email: mbaney@allan-assoc.com
Website: www.allan-assoc.com
Twitter: @A2Globalrisk

Michael Baney is a Washington D.C. based political and security risk consultant specialising in Latin America. Michael works at Allan & Associates, a security risk management agency, which provides a wide range of protective services from travel risk assessments to crisis management response.

Where should we avoid?

My friends and families ask me about travel in the Americas, my area of expertise. The region is a mixed bag, as it is home both to relatively safe and stable countries as well as many of the world’s most dangerous cities. Often, safer and more dangerous areas are close to one another. While Costa Rica is one of the most stable countries in the Americas, for example, vicious gangs have taken over many of the cities elsewhere in Central America, and gang violence has resulted in making the intentional homicide rates in El Salvador and Honduras the world’s highest. Similarly, while I enjoy travel to Mexico, portions of that country are experiencing major violence, as drug traffickers battle for control over them. Areas where rival traffickers routinely engage in street battles include the city of Acapulco, a major resort city that has seen a rapid decline in tourism as violence in the city has surged. If you’re set on visiting a Mexican resort city, Cancún is a much safer alternative, although it too has seen isolated drug-related violence.

Additionally, Haiti and Venezuela are in the midst of serious economic, political, and social crises, making tourism to them usually not worth the risk for the ordinary traveller.

Where should we go?

As a rule, I avoid ever telling anyone an area is “safe”, as there are risks everywhere. This isn’t just standard risk analyst hedging, either: I’ve spent a significant amount of time in some of Peru’s poorest shantytowns, but I’ve never been more at risk than I was when I stumbled upon a violent armed robbery in one of Washington, DC’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. Unexpected threats can arise anywhere at any time to anyone, and people should understand that distinguishing areas to visit from areas to avoid is about minimizing, not eliminating, risk. What you know can be more important than where you go, with an understanding of the particularities of locations and the threats in them giving you an advantage in keeping yourself safe.

That being said, the countries where foreigners face the least risk to their own security in the Americas are unsurprisingly also the richest: Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, the U.S., and Uruguay are all relatively prosperous and safe. Further, while some of the Caribbean islands have alarmingly high murder rates, the victims are generally locals, often gang members, and tourists, who typically concentrate in safer resort zones, are not usually targeted for violent crimes. The majority of visitors to these countries are able to enjoy their stays without major incident.


Logo-and-Risk-management (1)

Andre Colling, red24 Analyst Manager & Middle East and North Africa Analyst

Email: andrecolling@red24.com
Website: www.red24.com
Twitter: @andrecolling

I was recently asked by a friend if it was safe to travel to Turkey. The recent bombings in major cities, the assassination of the Russian Ambassador in Ankara, the conflict in Syria and the Kurd conflict in the southeast have all made the headlines in South Africa at some point during the course of the year. Turkey remains a very attractive destination for South Africans given its history and tourism focus but also because of the cost. For South Africans travelling abroad can be very expensive and Turkey offers an affordable retreat. My reply to her was that the risks have certainly increased but that she shouldn’t be misled by what is presented on the media. So often a crisis is so heavily focused on that the conclusion is that the entire country must be bad. I explained that despite the attempted coup, the state remains stable, security institutions and rule of law remain largely intact and thousands of people transit through the country each month without hassle. The actual probability of being affected is also very low given the size of many of the major cities and tourist locations.

That said, when in Turkey my advice was to avoid crowds, avoid police and military facilities, avoid foreign embassies, avoid the south east and Syrian border and stick to the western cities and towns. I also advised that they travel around in cities during off peak times and keep a close eye on the local media, just in case there was an issue that they needed to respond to. When choosing a hotel they should also seek to reside in a hotel away from key tourist locations and one that doesn’t attract too much attention but that also has decent security in place. A 24 hour security presence and access control remains an essential feature. When travelling around I recommended that they ask their hotel reception for a preferred taxi rather than hailing one off the street. Hotels are unlikely to recommend taxi services that are untested.


New-Raster-Gap-Logo

Rogan Dwyer at Global Asset Protection, Inc.

Email address: rogan@gaprotection.com
Website: www.gaprotection.com / www.b4stuffhappens.com
Twitter: @gapsecure

We consult and advise on the Duty of Care employers have for their employees, clients and stakeholders, and provide insurance and service solutions to protect assets overseas, both human and collateral. A global intelligence network and long standing contacts in the insurance and security industries are crucial to our continuing relevance and capability in this field.

Where should we avoid?

Obviously the Middle East and the ‘Stans but also North and West Africa, and the Philippines. Several of these destinations feature a lot of uncertainty and ill-will towards the West which goes deeper than mere criminal or terrorist groups, pervading the culture. Donald Trump’s election likely will exacerbate this ill-will. If you get into trouble in those countries you also face a very real possibility of a diplomatic quagmire to navigate, and cannot be assured of robust measures from State Department, Foreign Commonwealth Office or national equivalent being successful.

Where should we go?

Argentina, Chile are south of the drug routes and elegant places to visit. West Indies and certain Caribbean countries have great attraction but low crime rates on tourists. Northern Europe is well policed and attractive. Greece, Italy, Portugal  and Spain offer traditional sun and tourist holidays with friendly people, reasonable costs and tolerant attitudes, familiar customs. The US offers a predictable welcome and huge variety.

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