This worldwide caution for Americans to stay alert in tourist spots, even often safe European capitals, is quite notable.
The U.S. State Department issued on Thursday a “worldwide caution” to Americans traveling abroad as the war between Israel and Hamas stokes tensions globally. Americans were advised to “stay alert in locations frequented by tourists.”
“Due to increased tensions in various locations around the world, the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” said a department spokesperson.
Why is this happening?
In short, fears of anti-American violence. Large demonstrations have taken place about the Israel-Hamas War in Iraq, Israel, Jordan, France, the UK and multiple other countries.
In Turkey, the U.S. Consulate in Adana closed due to ongoing demonstrations. The State Department expects demonstrations throughout Turkey for the next several weeks.
“We’re monitoring conditions around the world,” said State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller at a press conference Thursday. “We take another number of factors when making that consideration. It’s not necessarily one thing, but everything we are watching around the world.”
What does a “caution” message mean?
Americans need to be careful and stay alert while traveling abroad, especially in areas with large protests. The U.S. State Department provides guidance to U.S. citizens traveling or living abroad in different ways.
On Thursday, the department issued a “worldwide caution alert.”
“Alerts” tell travelers about short-term or temporary conditions posing significant risks. They are time-limited, usually for events like elections, demonstrations, or disease outbreaks.
“Warnings” recommend U.S. citizens reconsider or avoid travel to certain countries due to serious and persistent threats like terrorism, civil unrest, or armed conflict.
What’s the precedent?
The State Department has issued 23 “worldwide caution” alerts since 2008. The most recent was issued by the State Department in 2022 in the wake of the death of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri because of fears of anti-American violence, according to an archive of State Department messages.
What are the levels of travel advisories?
The U.S. State Department issues travel advisories at various levels for American citizens. Higher level advisories indicate greater risks.
Level 4: Do Not Travel. This means the area has the highest level of risks to safety and security. There is a high likelihood of life-threatening risks to U.S. citizens. Lebanon is in this category now. Other countries in this category include Russia, Somalia, and South Sudan.
Level 3: Reconsider Travel. Travelers should avoid traveling here due to safety and security risks. Israel is now under this advisory. Other countries under this category include Ethiopia and Nigeria.
Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution. This means American travelers should be aware of heightened risks. Countries in this category include Ghana, Kenya, France, and the UK.
Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions. This is the lowest level in terms of safety and security risks. Countries in this category include Greece, Iceland, and Switzerland.
What’s a practical response by travelers?
Americans can enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to stay in the know about any more severe warnings or alerts that may later be issued for specific locations. The department lists country-specific travel advisories on travel.state.gov.
Will this have any effect on U.S. airlines?
Nothing will change for airlines or consumers regarding the booking of air travel. However, if there is decreased demand in response to the policy changes, the airlines may cut capacity even further than they already have done.
How are travel insurers impacted?
Travel insurance policies may exclude coverage or restrict certain benefits if you travel to a destination under a Level 3 or Level 4 advisory. (Level 3 Reconsider Travel, and Level 4 Do Not Travel.) This can include medical, evacuation, trip cancellation/interruption, and other benefits.
Some policies may exclude all coverage if you travel to a destination with a Level 4 advisory in effect. Others may exclude only certain benefits like non-medical evacuation.
Travel insurance providers generally expect policyholders to follow State Department advisories, and going into harm’s way may put coverage at risk. Consider “Cancel for Any Reason” policies if concerned about potential future advisories affecting your trip.
How are tour operators affected?
Some travel insurance companies won’t cover injuries travelers sustain on trips to areas the American government slaps a Level 3 or Level 4 travel advisory on, deterring tour and tour operators from going to them.
How are corporate travel managers responding?
Corporate travel managers will alert their road warriors about the official guidance and remind them that their travel risk management company is on standby to support them. In locations where demonstrations are big and restive or in countries close to the conflict, corporations may ask travelers if they wish to be transported home.
Corporate travel managers take several steps when responding to caution alerts from the U.S. State Department, weighing how risks vary by situation and location. The risks to an executive traveling to an urban city where there has been recent unrest or protests may be different than for staff attending a conference at a resort.
Some managers might postpone non-essential travel, limiting travel to certain areas, or arranging additional security support. The best travel managers have plans and providers in place for emergency evacuation assistance and monitor the local security environment during travel to warn employees as needed.
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Photo credit: People walk into Jerusalem's Old City via Jaffa Gate, as the conflict wreaks havoc across the tourism sector October 11, 2023. Sinan Abu Mayzer / Reuters