Decoding International Travel Warnings


Here’s an idyllic international meeting spot, as described by the U.S. State Department:

“The criminal threat level…is rated as critical by the Department of State. The U.S. Embassy has received multiple reports indicating tourists have been robbed at gunpoint or knifepoint in tourist locations in the downtown areas…; several of these incidents occurred during daylight hours. Burglaries, larcenies and “snatch-and-grab” crimes happen…"

How about another sought-after meeting destination?

“You can be arrested for jaywalking, littering, or spitting…Police have the authority to compel both residents and non-residents to submit to random drug analysis. They do not distinguish between drugs consumed before or after entering the country in applying local laws. Detained U.S. citizens have been surprised when they were arrested for violations that would not have resulted in arrest in the United States.”

The governments of the United States and other countries publish travel advisories and warnings so visitors can be prepared when visiting other countries. (The US State Department’s website is http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis_pa_tw_1168.html).  The problem is–in their effort to provide complete information–the advisories can create the impression that meeting destinations are downright dangerous, and local criminals are lying in wait to make meeting attendees their unfortunate victims. This is the situation even in places that meeting professionals might consider safe, such as both countries described above.

Meeting planners should check these advisories because they want their attendees to meet safely. They want everyone to understand local risks and avoid becoming victims. Moreover, there is potential legal liability for an association or company that chooses a meeting destination knowing that it may not be reasonably safe, or that fails to take appropriate precautions against known hazards.

What should a meeting planner do when faced with these dire government travel advisories? You want to choose meeting destinations that are convenient and exciting destinations for your guests. But you also want everyone to be safe. 

Here are some tips:

Read the Travel Advisories carefully. Planners and everyone else responsible for the meeting should read the advisories carefully to ensure that meeting attendees will be safe if appropriate precautions are taken. Even if the travel advisories seem unduly harsh, they are good “worst case scenarios” that demonstrate what could go wrong, helping planners put preventative safety measures into place.

Compare to other Advisories from other governments. Don’t just rely on travel advisories from your “home” government. Other countries have similar reviews that can be equally helpful and add perspective, particular the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) and the Government of Canada (http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories).

Confer with local DMCs and other Contacts about safety. Travel advisories only go so far–they may be incomplete, outdated, or paint an inaccurate picture of what’s needed for safety in the specific meeting city. It’s essential to supplement the advisories with local “boots on the ground” expertise, such as a DMC or other professional located in the meeting destination. Those local contacts can also help plan safe routes from hotels to meeting facilities, identify “foreigner-friendly” venues, and arrange for any security that may be required.

Include an Attendee “Code of Conduct” with registration materials. Meeting attendees can’t be relied on to research local customs and safety tips on their own. Do you need to inform attendees that kissing in public is prohibited, to stay away from street demonstrations, or that carrying drugs without a written prescription can lead to arrest? Create a brief “code of conduct” to include in registration materials and a pre-event email blast, so that everyone will be reminded of expected behavior. Also consider giving it out to attendees again upon arrival at the meeting.

Let attendees know they’re responsible for their own conduct. Meeting organizers can take reasonable precautions and warn attendees, but attendees must ultimately take responsibility for their own actions. Include a section in registration materials and pre-departure emails advising attendees that your organization cannot be responsible if an attendee is detained or arrested by local authorities, and that attendees must bear their own medical and legal costs. A written liability release in favor of meeting organizers and hosts may be appropriate.

Final Note: This blog is not “legal advice”; rather, it’s a discussion intended to make you think and draw your own conclusions. Legal advice can only be rendered after a discussion of your particular circumstances with an attorney competent in meetings law.

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