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I'd like to visit Tamanrasset and the Hoggar Mountains (see also this question), so I was happy to see that the FCO no longer advises against travel there:

Algeria travel advice, FCO
Source: FCO.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to areas within:

  • 30km of the borders with Libya, Mauritania, Mali and Niger
  • 30km of the border with Tunisia in the provinces of Illizi and Ouargla and in the Chaambi mountains area

That doesn't sound too bad. But the US state department considers the situation more seriously:

Avoid travel within 50 km (31 miles) of the eastern border and within 450 km (280 miles) of the southern border.

The Dutch government advices against all travel to Algeria, in particular against the areas corresponding to the ones indicated by the US State Department:

Dutch travel advice
Source: Nederland Wereldwijd

The French government is even more serious:

French travel advice
Source: France Diplomatie

On both Dutch and French charts red means "No travel" and orange means "Only necessary travel".

So I might have to wait a bit with this trip after all. But why do those travel advisories diverge so much? In large areas of the country, the FCO does not advise against travel at all, the US and Dutch government advice against all but essential travel, and the French government advice against all travel. That's the difference between the safest and least-safe category: a very large difference. Is it safer for UK than for US or French citizens? Is the UK government more optimistic? More up-to-date? Or are there other reasons to explain the discrepancy?

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    You might like to consider the "last updated on" stamps on those sites as well. – origimbo Nov 15 '17 at 15:12
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    Travel advisories are generally trying to be excessively safe, rather than relay practical information. If there is even a hint of potential problems they'd rather mark the whole locale as unsafe. In addition politics play a large role, e.g. Crimea is marked as unsafe for no reason other than Western countries trying to sanction Russia. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Nov 15 '17 at 15:35
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    @htmlfarmer wow, Africa sure takes the Dark Skies initiative seriously. I want to see the travel advisory map like that for the United States. What does it say for Indiana, "here there be dragons"? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 16 '17 at 1:16
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    I am not sure I see much difference between the French and the Dutch. What makes you think the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs discourages all travel to Algeria? “Déconseillé sauf raison impérative” = “Alleen noodzakelijke reizen” and both consider travelling to Algiers and Constantine perfectly acceptable. As I said on chat, the FCO is the odd one out and given the specific facts listed in the French notice, I don't see how they can reach this conclusion. – Relaxed Nov 16 '17 at 10:57
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    Those advisories cater to citizens of their county. There might be very different security concerns based on diplomatic differences or different historic and ethnic connections for citizens from different countries. – skymningen Nov 17 '17 at 10:15
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The most obvious answer may be that these advisories are highly subjective. The danger level is hard to assess, is likely constantly changing, and in some situations will affect nationals of some countries more than those of others (e.g. when militants target citizens of certain countries or of certain religions).

Some countries assess the risk level using their own resources in the second country; others rely on the assessments of other countries. Some countries likely share intelligence to make their assessments more accurate. Some may simply use publicly-available information to make their assessments.

I think you're doing the right thing by aggregating multiple assessments. This lets you make a better-informed decision.

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    I'm not sure what "aggregating" means, but at the very least the info you are "aggregating" should be comparable. As @origimbo quite sensibly suggests you should be looking at the time these advisories were issued and make sure that they are actually current. If you "aggregate" the info by looking at the time stamps you will get a very nice picture of the danger going down in time (worst in 2014 from the french map best in 2017 on the FCO one). This also lines up well with the info actually given on the US site which notes that the danger has been decreasing steadily. – DRF Nov 15 '17 at 20:21
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    @DRF By "aggregating" I mean assembling multiple opinions, taking them together, and then coming up with an assessment considering the information received from all sources rather than accepting any one of them as being indisputably correct. That would certainly include considering the age of the content in question. – Jim MacKenzie Nov 15 '17 at 20:27
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    I was just trying to point out that the term "aggregating" is doing a hell of a lot of work here, and I'm not sure just how good your usual traveler is at it. The originals (even assuming there weren't time issues) are already hiding tons of random noise and are (at least for the countries with significant international covert presence) already a distillation of a huge amounts of sources. It is a common fallacy to assume that looking at more data points somehow gets you a better understanding. Without proper mathematical and other tools more data can be significantly worse. – DRF Nov 15 '17 at 20:38
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    @DRF It depends on how you look at things. If I only look at one country's perspective and it thinks things are fine, perhaps I go, but if I look at many countries' perspectives and many are concerned, perhaps I don't, or I mitigate the risks in other ways. I'm looking at it from a risk management angle, not from a statistical angle. – Jim MacKenzie Nov 15 '17 at 20:58
  • @DRF The French notice has been updated in December 2016. – Relaxed Nov 16 '17 at 10:58
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Risk assessment also take into account the nationality and culture of the travelers, as well as reports of other recent travelers.

So if the US has 30 people visit a country in one year, and one person is assaulted, but the dutch only have 2 people visit, one of which is assaulted, they might simply not have enough information to make a great recommendation due to low sample size.

Alternately, Americans might be more poorly received, or more likely to be targeted for ransom compared to someone from the EU.

Lastly, travelers from one country might be slightly more comfortable around people who are armed compared to someone from a country with more strict gun regulation, so travelers to a country where guns are more available might not be as comfortable to travelers from the gun restricted country vs a traveler who is used to them.

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    Yes, it depends very much where you come from. Once I was sitting with a bunch of students in a cafe in some town in Turkey (Izmir, maybe) and opposite there was a mosque with a big group of young men getting rather aggressive and nasty and shouting stuff about Americans. One of our group inquired (in Turkish) what was going on, and told them we were actually British. The group quietened down and disappeared. At that time Brits were still popular. – RedSonja Nov 16 '17 at 9:47
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Why do travel advisories vary so much between countries?

Because the advisories are snapshots from when they were created, which isn't always as recently as you might hope.

If you look at the "last updated" stamps on those websites, you will get a very nice picture of the danger going down in time (worst in 2014 from the french map to best in 2017 on the FCO one). This also lines up well with the info actually given on the US site which notes that the danger has been decreasing steadily.


Not my own work. Answer created from comments by origimbo and DRF

  • That does not really account for the discrepancy, the map might not have been redrawn, but the “security” section is marked as updated in December 2016 and “still valid in November 2017”. The map still reflects this advice and therefore needs no updating. Also, a French citizen has been kidnapped in 2014 and a oil refinery has been attacked in 2016. Considering how rare these events must be to begin with and how few French people there would remain to be kidnapped, I don't see how it's possible to conclude things are getting safer based on one or two years with no reports of any problem. – Relaxed Nov 16 '17 at 10:57

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