What to do when tourists are caught in a Sudden National Crisis
A fun filled care free holiday can turn into a disaster if a tourist wakes up to a National crisis in the foreign country. The events quickly evolve and may seem straight out of a Hollywood movie, anyone who has seen Hotel Rwanda, will understand what the impact of these national crises can be. These are events beyond our control but can affect our stay, departure and even survival in a foreign country. This article gives an insight in what to do and who to stay safe in such places.
IntroductionInternational holidays, the lure of an economical holiday in a developing country, the attraction of a wildlife or international historic heritage sites, ancient monuments in far flung places all appeal to the group of tourists who want to see something different other than theme parks and world's famous shopping destinations.
Unfortunately, such places can be the target for a military coup, civil unrest, interstate or inter country wars within the same continent, a sudden political crisis and a change of leadership, terrorist attacks or a sudden financial crisis that paralyses the country. For instance, we currently have an state of emergency declared in Maldives. Thailand has seen military coups and power struggles(2014), Zimbabwe had a military coup last year in 2017. Venezuela is in a state of economic and political turmoil.
As a tourist, the unimaginable scenario coming true is waking up in a foreign land and finding such a major crisis staring at you. These are times wherein the visitors are not familiar with the local Geo-political and religious dynamics, have little cash and resources in hand. If they act wisely and at times quickly, they can manage to reach safety.
How to avoid finding yourself in the middle of a National Crisis in a Foreign land?
- Follow the media : As the date of your departure starts nearing, keep a track of the international news in the papers or the TV about any news reports for concern. Check the country websites and the resort/game reserve or tour organizers website for updates.
- Check Embassy alerts: Each country has its own system of alerts or 'travel warnings' issued regularly about sensitive tourist destinations and countries. Please adhere to it and decide wisely. For instance there are sites which give globally accessible alerts. If you check this site, travel to Afghanistan is 'Do Not Travel', Cuba 'Reconsider travel'. Such advises are very useful while planning, booking and just before departure. (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/ traveladvisories /traveladvisories.html).
- Travel agencies : Just before departure, please check with your tour operator or the agency regarding any concerns in the foreign country that you need to be aware or that has happened since you booking the travel.
- Research well: Visiting such places with sub-optimal tourism infra-structure and traveling vast distances into remote areas needs a lot of research and organization on your part. If you are hopping destinations, study your travel plans, from the airport of the large city, the connecting local flight or land travel and finally the destination. For instance, Matusadona National Park, Zimbabwe, is a game reserve for wildlife enthusiasts. Tourists need to travel either from Victoria falls airport or from Harare airport and then drive or take a chartered flight. For such journeys one need to be prepared with the regular routes, alternative routes etc.
- Emergency access points: While traveling to such places, it is important to know the nearest embassy of your country or the US embassy, location of state capital, the other nearest popular tourist destinations, UN offices or International NGO offices. Please have the maps, the co-ordinates and the contact numbers for such places so that, in case of an emergency, you can safely reach one of these places and link up with other tourists.If you can have numbers of common friends or people in the area via your known contacts, they would be very useful at times of such unrest.
- Resources : Basic equipment like hiking shoes,personal safety equipment, accurate maps,compass, money, medicines and jewelry that can be safely hidden out of sight in your rucksack or secret compartments. A satellite phone is a very good accessory provided the country allows it. For example in India, only 'Inmarsat' based satellite phone is legal, rest are illegal. It's worth reading a basic book about emergency survival, hostage survival, having a crash course in self defense etc.
- Choose well : Select a reputed travel operator for such destinations who know the terrain and have contacts on site to help you. Similarly, the resort or accommodation suites and airlines too. Take a good travel insurance plan that gives you some basic rights as a tourist in such emergencies.
What to do when you are in the middle of a national crisis?
- Stay focused : Being calm, go into alert and survival mode, pack lightly water, packed food that lasts a few days, a change of clothes,the basic survival kit,maps etc and keep it handy. Listen to news and information you can get from media, hotel staff etc.
- Inform Family : Family and friends need to be informed before the situation gets out of control.Leave your exact co-ordinates with them and your likely movement plans. Don't venture out too far from the location or travel to places affected with riots or political unrest.
- Monitor the situation : Often at such times, native people help the tourists and you can escape unhurt. Keep in touch with the police authorities, your embassy, your travel agent and the airlines.
- Plan your escape: When the situation becomes worse, there is few hours of window period before violence or riots become uncontrollable. Utilize this time to plan your move to the embassy, police headquarters,airport etc.
- Respect local emergency laws : Often a curfew would be declared and movements would be curtailed, don't move around and risk getting arrested and jailed at such times. Don't be aggressive with the rebels, military or emergency police.
- Buy your way out: People at such places often help when given huge sums of money (a few hundred dollars would be a large amount for some of them), approach your local host, tour operator to get you to the nearest safe zone or airport and put you on the next flight. So, be prepared and keep such options open and be on the lookout for danger.
- Identity papers : Identification documents are very useful to get into an embassy or a office for safety reasons. When the opportunity arises, contact the embassy or family and seek the help of the diplomatic channels or Ministry of external affairs etc.
- Crossing borders : At desperate times, it would not be feasible to reach the countries airport etc. If their is neighboring town across the border that is unaffected in the war or unrest, in exigent circumstances tourists make a run for safety and then find a way out.
- Taken Hostage : At times of political crisis in such places, the rebels or fanatics would take tourists as hostages. If unfortunately, you are taken a hostage, go to survival mode, with due respect to the tourist, one should forget ego, human rights, right to speech/dignity etc. Don't attract undue attention of the abductors. Further discussion would be beyond the scope of this article.
- Food and Health : This would be very unpredictable, being prepared to save water and some energy drinks or food would be useful. When the time and place permits, if you get access to food and water, pay what's demanded and keep yourself well fueled and stocked.
ConclusionBudget international holidays, exploring untamed lands in developing or poorly developed regions can be exciting for adults and couples. But it can also spring surprises wherein you, as a tourist is caught at the wrong place at the wrong time. Keeping the above aspects in mind, gathering your wits, if you are prepared, always thinking on the move, making and revising plans, being extra-vigilant about the surroundings and happenings, you can find your way out of such crisis and reach safety.