Crime And Egypt BE CAREFUL OUT THERE Tourists face a world of dangers.
But with the right advice, most hazards turn out to be manageable. JIM VAN HOUTEN, A FINANCIAL planner from Phoenix, Ariz., was on a tour of the Middle East, but by the time his group arrived in Egypt, most of its members had opted out. “We started in Israel with 320 people,” he said during a visit to the Valley of the Kings, the stunning burial site outside Luxor. “Only 62 people came to Cairo, and only 16 of us came down to Luxor. But touring Egypt is like the stock market,” he added.
“When everybody bails out, you should come in.” A great many U.S. tourists have bailed out on Egypt since 1997, when terrorists slaughtered 67 foreign visitors (none of them American) in two gory attacks.
Since then, the government has tightened security considerably, but Egypt still ranks as a dangerous place. The State Department announced last month that “extremist elements may be planning imminent unspecified attacks against U.S. interests in Egypt.” Pinkerton Global Intelligence Services, one of the private companies entering the burgeoning travel-security field, rates Egypt as a “high-risk” country (map). Still, there’s a payoff for those willing to run the risk: as a tourist venue, Egypt is uncrowded and cheap. “Business is now about 70 percent of normal,” says Karim Gharranah, a tour operator in Cairo, “and prices are 40 percent less than they should be.
” Just be careful out there.Some of the most attractive tourist destinations can be bad for your health if you don’t know what the risks are and how to avoid them. Terrorism, war, riots, crime, corruption and the occasional volcano (like the ones currently grumbling in Ecuador and on the Caribbean island of Montserrat) can quickly ruin a vacation, if not a life. The most extreme risks are so well known, and so rare, that tourists are unlikely to encounter them: kidnappings in Yemen, beheadings in Chechnya.
Long-running civil wars have turned some interesting countries into no-go zones; Algeria’s underground conflict is so vicious that even hardened journalists don’t travel there. Although the risks are vastly lower in most of the world, vigilance is still needed. Mexico, for example, is generally a safe place for tourists, despite some well-publicized violence and corruption.Yet an unwary visitor strolling the streets late at night might fall victim to an “express kidnapping,” in which the victim is hustled from one ATM machine to another before and after midnight, in order to get two days’ worth of maximum cash withdrawals.
Fortunately, reliable information about travel risks is far more accessible than it used to be, partly because of the rise of the Internet. The State Department, which is sometimes accused of not keeping Americans adequately informed, now records 150,000 visits a day to its Web site for travelers (http://travel.state.
gov). The department offers “consular information sheets” containing routine security information on every country in the world. It issues “travel warnings” that urge Americans to avoid certain countries; currently 29 of those are in force, including such longstanding enemies of the United States as Iran, Iraq and Libya (but not Cuba).The department also issues “public announcements” on “significant” security risks in other nations; about a dozen of them are in effect. Some of the advice is surprising. A public announcement posted late last year warns of a possible “terrorist attack” against Americans in orderly Austria. The State Department listings are also notable for what they leave out.
Despite terrorist attacks that killed dozens of Americans in recent years in Israel and Saudi Arabia, neither U.S.ally is the subject of even a public announcement. Russia, where crime is a problem, draws only one public announcement: on “using GPS devices, radio-electronic equipment and computers.” Turkey, which has been battling Kurdish rebels, is the subject of an elaborate briefing on “driver safety,” including a list of “key motoring terms,” such as Benzin (gasoline), Lastikci (tire repair) and Kismet (fate). State Department officials insist that their travel information is not influenced by political or diplomatic needs; unflattering information on such allies as Israel or Saudi Arabia is entered in the consular information sheets, they say. But several private risk-management companies think they can make money by selling competing travel alerts to businesspeople and tourists. “We can call it like we see it,” says Ellen Tidd, a former top CIA analyst who now heads Kroll Information Services.
“We think our competitive edge is that we can say it a bit more bluntly [than the State Department].” Kroll sells detailed advisories on foreign cities for $19.95 each and runs a “Travel Watch” Web site that has registered 2.8 million visits since Oct.1.
Its latest report calls Moscow “a high-risk city, with increasing organized and petty crime and poor infrastructure.” Private companies say they can move more quickly than the State Department bureaucracy. Last week, echoing a warning from the Israeli military, Pinkerton alerted its clients that hitchhikers who look like Israeli soldiers might be terrorists in disguise. Numerous other Web sites and publications are available to prepare travelers for just about any destination. Much of the advice is common-sensical. Don’t flaunt your valuables.
Avoid trouble spots, especially after dark. Don’t mess with illicit drugs. Act like you know where you’re going. Make eye contact, but don’t stare or glare.
Telephone for a taxi instead of picking one up on the street.Tourists looking for safety can sometimes find it in remote corners of even the most troubled countries. Although Indonesia is racked by financial crisis and political unrest, especially in Jakarta, the capital, travel agents still send clients to tranquil Bali. “It’s the same country, but they’re worlds apart,” says Domenica Lalima, marketing coordinator for a New York agency called Absolute Asia. Egyptian resorts are booming on the Red Sea coast, where the sun shines year-round and the coral reefs offer spectacular scuba diving. Coastal towns like Sharm al-Sheikh and Al Ghurdaqah are isolated and easy to secure.When their security is in doubt, American travelers are well advised not to be too obviously American.
No baseball caps, no white sneakers, no T shirts with American slogans. And if a stranger comes up to you on the street and asks your nationality, do what some experienced American travelers do. Say you’re Canadian.
People think that they like Canadians.Sociology.