I have learned that, the more travelers know about safety and security hazards, the greater the likelihood that some answers will be found. I cannot distinguish between the terror a passenger feels in an airplane falling from the sky, from that of a young female tourist in an urban hotel room, forced to commit sodomy by an assailant holding a knife to her throat.
Both of these tragedies are part of the travel experience not covered in travel brochures. Both events need to be addressed, however, if they are to be avoided in the future.
Warning the Tourist
For several years I received visiting dignitaries on behalf of the City of New York, sometimes addressing them as follows:
“Good day, your Excellency. My names is Charles Slepian. I am the Deputy Chief of Protocol of the City of New York. On behalf of Mayor John V. Lindsay, I am pleased to welcome you to New York and to present you with this key to the city. It is a symbol of the unlocking of our gates for your visit and the hearts of my fellow 8 million New Yorkers, on behalf of whom I also welcome you.”
As director of Tourism, I might have been inclined to offer the following warnings as well:
“If you really must visit Times Square, please call City Hall and I will arrange for a police escort. I welcome you to use our subway system, but only during daylight hours and only in the midtown area. I regret that Central Park is only opened to muggers and rapists during daylight hours and murderers and kidnappers after dark, Monday through Friday. On weekends, the park is opened at all times to pickpockets and scam artists. Enjoy your visit.”
During those years, the media had a field day exaggerating New York’s crime problems, which were serious but not quite as grotesque as I have stated. Back in the 1970’s we learned a great deal about travel, tourism and the terror sometimes faced by naive and unsuspecting tourists visiting New York.
Taking the Streets Back
And, with the support of an aggressive mayor willing to air the problems of our city and deal with them, we took the first steps toward improving conditions for the city’s 17 million visitors. Today in New York, more visitors go to Times Square in a year than visit Disney World. This is a tribute to the dedication and success of other mayors and their staffs who accepted the realities of crime–especially in urban settings–and worked to take the streets back for residents and visitors alike.
Addressing safety issues for travelers is difficult for an industry that bases its marketing on the premise that travel provides first and foremost an opportunity to leave your cares and worries behind for awhile. Some travel industry executives say it isn’t possible to both encourage people to fly in commercial aviation and stay at America’s lodgings on the one hand, and on the other raise their safety concerns when traveling. If they have the choice, they will save their money and stay at home.
Serious crime incidents or transportation disasters involving tourists become national news quickly these days. And if stories of this kind have any impact on travel at all, it appears to be on the choices of where and how people will travel, not if they will travel.
Safety Information for the Traveler
If some travelers can be spared becoming a victim while on the road, by raising their consciousness about the kind of risks travel presents, then the sooner we begin to provide information about how to limit exposure to travel dangers, the better. Not only can travel safety information help travelers make better choices about destinations and how to reach them, it can also encourage travel industry executives to do more to limit exposure to crime and accidents. As travelers become better educated about travel safety, their choices will not include destinations that ignore safety consideration.
After numerous carjackings and other tourist-related crimes threatened Miami’s lucrative foreign tourism business, the city, with the state of Florida’s help, took steps necessary to lower crime risks. They did this by more vigorously policing areas where tourist crimes were likely to occur.
Miami also undertook safety information programs for visitors and made other changes designed to keep tourists out of harm’s way. At the same time, the car rental industry recognized its customer security obligations by instituting a number changes designed to help tourists avoid dangerous situations.
Open Talk About Security Problems
Through the public airing of its security problems, most of which was and remains unwelcomed, and the economic and legal pressures that have followed, necessary changes have occurred to make Miami both a better travel destination than ever before, and an improved community for its residents.
To accomplish a successful traveler safety information program, the lodging, transportation and attraction segments of the travel industry need only continue the work already begun by the lodging industry in providing travelers with travel safety tips in thousands of hotel and motel rooms across the country. These notices remind visitors that the first defense against crime on the road is responsible conduct by travelers.