Cape Town - Travel risk has become a hot topic in 2016. Since the start of the year, and during last year, terrorist activity, increasing crime and health risks have dominated travel news.
The spread of the Zika virus in South America, Yellow Fever and Ebola on the Africa continent, terrorist bombs in popular tourist destinations like Brussels, Paris and Istanbul, student protests in South Africa and increasing crime on major airlines are a few of the major concern for travellers across the globe.
Africa in particular, has always been stereotyped as a 'dark' continent riddled with famine and disease - a travel destination only apt for volunteerism and welfare distribution.
But, as South Africans well know, things aren't always doom-and-gloom over here. Statistics indicate that African travel is one of the fast-growing sectors.
Despite South Africa reporting a 6.8% drop in arrivals during 2015, below the global average of a +4.4%, Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) saw a 14.4% increase in African air arrivals.
The aforementioned drop has been attributed to the aftermath of Ebola and the unintended consequences of changes to immigration regulations in the first two quarters of 2015. Regardless of the obvious growth in the market, general safety is a major concern for travellers coming to the continent.
In 2014, for example, when the Ebola crisis hit West Africa, the entire continent suffered, mainly because of travellers' ignorance.
Holidaymakers to South Africa cancelled their holidays out of fear of getting Ebola, regardless of the fact that SA is more than 6 000km away from Guinea - this equates to cancelling your holiday to Australia because of health and safety issues in New Zealand.
Michael Becker for GeoSure Global says misconceptions like this insinuates putting a ban on world travel altogether, as just about everywhere has the potential to be unsafe.
The latest Brussels terror attack serves as a clear reminder.
Speaking at a seminar for safety awareness and encouraging travel to the African continent at the World Travel Market Africa in Cape Town, Becker said travellers should not only focus on global travel alerts and international news coverage. "Instead, travellers should focus on risk assessment and firsthand advice from locals that are in the destination they're travelling to.
"By empowering citizens of Africa to express their observations on a localized basis through technology, city and country safety awareness becomes a very powerful by-product," he says.
"Technology, utilized by conscientious citizen stakeholders and advocates, sharing their experiences locally in an accurate and responsible fashion, can reflect what’s really happening on the ground in Africa, in real-time."
The GeoSure app facilitates this 'ground level' insight into what really goes on in Africa, and the rest of the world.
Instead of perpetuating the doom-and-gloom travel risks, the app allows users to view information about the destination you're in, or going to.
Rob Walker, for International SOS and Control Risks agrees with GeoSure Global's Becker. “Education and information – and, in some cases, training – are vital to helping employees understand and mitigate threats to their personal safety."
GeoSure serves this education and information for personal safety for travellers on the go, before on on-trip.
When searching for information on Cape Town, for example, the app gives level-headed advise on various crime hotspots in different areas around the Mother City.
Camps Bay, for example, ranks in the same category as Chicago in the US on the app. An advisory pop-up tells travellers, "Some of the most exciting, authentic and dramatic places in the world can be dangerous - and this is one of them!"
On the app, visitors and locals have the opportunity to add experiences and relevant in-location information. This, says Becker, is the real advise travellers should follow. And it's made possible by technology.
Power of virtual reality
The new Virtual Reality simulators that have been implemented in SA and other African countries, which show real time events, natural scenery and landmarks in Africa through the eyes of locals are also good examples of the ultilization of technology as a tool to enhance realistic expectations for travellers.
Information like this, if collected and distributed to global travel and tourism organizations can indicate an outlook, may be vastly different from misconceptions and help de-escalate negative impressions and misunderstandings travellers have about certain countries on the continent.
"If improved information flows can sustain tens of thousands of jobs across Africa and retain the enormous revenue effect of tourism on the continent cities, countries and the global tourism industry will flourish," Becker believes.
Innovators in the tourism economy
South Africa and other countries, already innovators in the tourism economy, can play a key role in sweeping change for the global travel & tourism ecosystem.
Because South Africa and other African countries are so often stereotyped in a bad light by the rest of the world, they are not easily bothered by misconceptions and escalated versions of reality in other countries they travel to.
In the wake of the bombs, health risks and terror, South Africans still continue their holidays to affected areas, regardless of the risks - as indicated by travel agents Traveller24 spoke to regarding travel to Turkey, following fatal attacks in Istanbul.
Risk, says Becker, is defined by uncertainty. And if travellers can rid themselves of this uncertainty by means of understanding locations, and getting confirmation from locals in the destinations, half of the battle is already won.
There's no denying that travellers still need to exercise caution and make good preparation to ensure a healthy travel spirit, and an appealing travel reality. But the reality is that no one can predict where in the world is safe to travel to, and where is not. And taking the necessary precautions to stay informed and abreast of situations is a far site better than staying at home.
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- Infographic: Travel Risks for 2016
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