Questioning government advice


THERE is a grisly irony to the fact that last week’s TTG discussion on the future of tourism in Tunisia was held at the News UK HQ in London Bridge.

The event took place in a room with a clear view of the bridge and Borough Market, the scene of last June’s terror attack. And the panellists discussed advice on visiting Tunisia issued by a government based in one of the most targeted cities in the west.

Following the murder of 38 people by a gunman at Port El Kantaoui in June 2015, the UK government advised its citizens not to travel to the country. This had a massive effect on an economy dependent or tourism.

The consensus was that advice was based on the time it took for the authorities to respond to the attack. This is speculation – the Foreign Office does not make the detail on which its advice is based known. But as a theory it seems sound. How else could you explain there being no advice to avoid Paris, Barcelona and Berlin following their various tragedies? Or the fact our government’s change of heart on Tunisia coincided with their government putting into place measures to speed its response?

At the time of writing, MI5 rates the threat of attack on London as severe, meaning it is highly likely. Briefly, following last Friday’s Parsons Green bomb, it was rated critical, meaning another attack was imminent. If London was in another country, what would our Government’s advice be on visiting?

Once the advice has been issued not to visit a country it has instant and long-lasting effects. Flight programmes are suspended or cancelled and once that has happened it can be months or even years after the advice is changed before they are rescheduled. It also becomes much harder to get travel insurance for these destinations or help from your own government should anything go wrong.

The almost complete suspension of UK tourism to Tunisia cost the country dear. Some estimates put the total loss of revenue following the 2015 attack at £500million.

With all this in mind, it’s worth noting that unless you live in or visit a country that is actually at war, the chances of you being killed by a terrorist are vanishingly small – statistically a fraction of the likelihood that you will be killed in a road accident or by obesity.

In 2016 there were slightly fewer than 26,000 deaths caused by terrorism worldwide while an estimated 240,000 people are struck by lightning each year. While not arguing against caution, perhaps this should be born in mind when government advice is issued. When you consider the safety of a country, terrorism is just one factor in a huge range of risks.

Pete Bell