Terrorism concerns limit Pacific travel options
December 12, 2002
Bandits, political unrest and malaria used to be among the biggest worries for overseas sojourners.
But in the wake of the Bali and Kenya bombings, the threat of terrorism masses like an ominous cloud over most vacation plans this holiday season. Countries once considered relatively safe are blanketed with travel warnings.
Consider Thailand: Long a favorite tourist destination in Asia for its beach resorts, exotic food and ancient monuments, the country’s terrorist threat level is deemed “significant” by the U.S. military in Japan, according to Sgt. 1st Class Cecil L. Harvey, anti-terrorism non-commissioned officer, U.S Army Garrison-Japan.
“Significant” is the second-highest terrorist threat level.
The threat categories, set by Pacific Command, dictate to Department of Defense personnel and family members in Japan to which countries they can travel, Harvey said.
Southeast Asian countries off-limits to DOD personnel and their families are Indonesia, North Korea and East Timor. Travel to the Philippines also is prohibited because the threat of terrorist activity is considered “high.”
In addition to Thailand, other countries in Southeast Asia at a “significant” threat level are Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam.
A force protection travel plan must be approved by the authorized commander before visiting these and other countries, Harvey said. For servicemembers in Japan, the commanding general of U.S. Army Japan considers each request case by case, he said.
“We need to know where everybody is in case something happens, like in Bali, and we need to pull everybody out, or we need to get a hold of them,” explained Lt. Dana Metzger of U.S. Forces Japan.
The U.S. State Department also issues travel warnings. The most recent was for East Africa, following the Nov. 28 car bomb attack on a hotel near Mombassa, Kenya, that killed more than a dozen people and the unsuccessful attempt to down an Israeli charter plane leaving that city the same day.
Warnings about travel in Southeast Asia also remain steadfast: The State Department issued a public announcement for the region Nov. 2, reminding Americans that after Bali, “the possibility exists that similar attacks may occur in other Southeast Asian nations.”
DOD personnel and their families seem to be heeding the caution.
Holiday bookings are down at local travel agencies on Yokota Air Base and Camp Zama in Japan, their travel agents reported.
“It’s a hard year for us,” said Betty Nakamura, manager of Zama ITT.
Twenty-five people backed out of a Dec. 21 trip to Bali, after a bombing at two night clubs there killed scores of foreign tourists and wounded hundreds, including Americans.
Two separate holiday tours, in southern and northern Thailand, were approved only recently, Nakamura said.
“By that time, a lot of people had made other plans to go back to the States,” she said.
A trip to Singapore, which included a cruise to Malaysia, was canceled because of force protection concerns, she said.
A State Department official advised people to consult the department’s consular information sheets and public announcements when making travel plans.
“Be informed that we’re trying to alert you to what the potential risks are,” he said.
Perhaps not surprisingly, some people plan to play it safe this season.
Marlo Lugar, 35, a spouse at Yokota Air Base, said she and her family are staying put over the holidays “because of 9/11 and the news the last couple of weeks.”
“I feel safer flying to the United States than I do to Europe or this part of the world right now,” she said.
But Armando Cruz, a 59-year-old dependent at Yokota, believes Americans need to be careful wherever they travel.
“Now that we are fighting terrorism, we have to be cautious every time,” he said.
“Nowhere is really safe.”
Tips for safer travel
¶ Check out the U.S. State Department’s Web site for travel warnings at http://travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html
¶ Avoid facilities and events popular with Americans or other Westerners, such as clubs, restaurants, hotels, schools, resorts and places of worship.
¶ When traveling in a potentially dangerous country, register with the police and the American consulate or embassy.
¶ Make sure all immunizations are up-to-date.
¶ Avoid travel to a foreign country during an election year or period of political instability.
¶ Purchase vacation insurance, in case something goes wrong before a trip or an evacuation occurs during a trip.
¶ Place a copy of the front page of your passport in all luggage pieces.
¶ Report suspicious activity to the American embassy.
¶ Avoid traveling alone.
¶ Be aware of your surroundings.
¶ Monitor the local news.
Sources: Kansas State Professor Linda Richter; U.S. Army Japan; U.S. State Department