Is Europe safe for travelling?

With numerous terrorist attacks such as the Turkey bombings this week, and social and economic upheaval following the Brexit (British Exit) adding to the fear and confusion, is it safe to travel in Europe?

Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood speaks to several experts to see how safe Europe really is and how you can ensure your safety when travelling.

Sean Hough, CEO of Pentravel, states: “One cannot guarantee safety anywhere in the world, but this should not put us off from travelling. Life is for living and we should not give into the fear, that’s what these terrorists want. South Africans are resilient and in general not easily scared off.”

Which European countries are safer?

When asked about the safest countries, Gecko Travel owner, Lizl Burger refers to a recent survey conducted by the Institute for Economics and Peace. The top ten safest countries in the world (out of the 163 surveyed), according to the survey are:

  1. Iceland
  2. Denmark
  3. Austria
  4. New Zealand
  5. Portugal
  6. Czech Republic
  7. Switzerland
  8. Canada
  9. Japan
  10. Slovenia

According to TripAdvisor, the top 10 popular destinations in Europe are:

top europe destinations

Sources: TripAdvisor and Institute for Economics and Peace 2016 Global Peace Index

Turkey and Russia fall within the top 20 least peaceful countries in the world.

From the above information, it appears that even increased awareness of the danger of travelling to certain countries is not deterring people from travelling. Sharmila Ragunanan, a spokesperson for Flight Centre, reveals that Flight Centre has not noticed a significant drop in bookings to any particular European country, and that “Europe remains a popular destination for SA.”

Russell Jarvis, head of communications at Travelstart, adds: “Currently Iceland, Malta and Slovenia are still considered low risk, according to the latest advice from the Foreign Office.”

What should you avoid?

Hough believes that there is not any place in particular that people should avoid, but it is important to be vigilant when visiting large tourist destinations and using public transport.

“As per the advice we give to all South African travellers, not just those travelling to Europe, be vigilant and heed the advice of local authorities. Monitor security websites and ensure you are as informed as possible as to the do’s and don’ts in your destination city or country,” stresses Ragunanan.

Burger agrees, advising: “Be just as vigilant in public places and when using public transport as you would be if you are travelling in South Africa.”

Ensuring your safety when travelling

While it is impossible to plan for every eventuality, there are steps you can take when travelling to help keep you safe.

Jarvis notes that when travelling it is helpful to stay abreast of current events, such as which regions are targets for terrorist activity. “The United States government and UK Foreign Office do a good job of providing real time updates to their citizens at home and abroad with regards to global terror threats via their travel advisory services. These freely available resources are excellent indicators of terrorist activity and can be accessed by any concerned travellers regardless of whether or not they’re citizens of the USA or UK.”

Ragunanan says: “We advise all our clients to check with their Flight Centre Travel Expert as well as acknowledged security websites such as the British government’s Foreign Travel Advice service before setting off on their journeys. Once in the destination country/city, travellers should be vigilant, monitor news reports and heed the advice of the local authorities.”

In addition, Ragunanan notes that travellers also have the option to check in with South Africa’s representative office in their destination country as well as register on the Registration of South Africans Abroad website which will allow the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to assist South Africans in the event of an emergency.

Burger notes that you should know how to contact the South African Embassy when travelling. “This is especially important if you are a victim of a natural disaster or terror attack. The South African Embassy or Foreign Mission would then need to be contacted so it can establish you or your family member/friend’s whereabouts and welfare.”

Furthermore, Burger points out that you should also know how to contact the local authorities in the event of an emergency. Also ensure that you have a working phone when travelling. “There are alternatives to international roaming such as buying a local SIM card or renting a phone.”

Burger adds: “Use the pre-registration facility if your travel company has one and give your family members or friends a copy of your itinerary with the relevant contact numbers. [And] always take out comprehensive travel insurance.”

Jarvis offers the following tips to help you plan a safe trip:

  • All travellers, whether travelling to a safe or volatile area, are advised to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before they travel. For some regions this may be a prerequisite for obtaining a visa.
  • Open a communication with your travel agent and to a lesser degree the airline you’re travelling with. Travel industry professionals are knowledgeable about the destinations they sell and are in a position to offer current advice.
  • Pay a visit to the website of your destinations tourism body – in most cases these resources offer a perspective and tips about the situation on the ground.
  • Attacks are likely to target the country, civilians and demonstrations. Nevertheless, it’s increasingly apparent that some attacks also target western interests and tourists from western countries, particularly in the major cities. As such, travellers in knowingly volatile areas should exercise caution in densely populated public spaces such as airports, train stations, hotels and major tourist sites.

Brexit and its effect on travel

Many are concerned about the effect that Brexit could have on travel. However, the good news for South Africans travelling on their South African passports is that current travel requirements will not change, immediately.

Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, says: “The shock of Brexit on travel will be short-lived. The process to exit will take about two years, which means that in the medium term, tourists and tourism businesses will need to prepare themselves for a series of changes. For South Africans travelling abroad, the questions around Visas will need to be answered as soon as possible, but for now it would remain unchanged.”

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