Travel: It's important to put in perspective the tragic events in Uganda and Yemen

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The Independent Culture
TRAGEDY STRIKES deep. The feelings of every traveller will go out to the families of the tourists who died in Uganda this week. Beyond those individual calamities, though, there are wider tragedies yet to emerge from the events in Bwindi National Park.

The first repercussion will be for the people of Uganda. Having suffered dreadfully in the past three decades, they were at last enjoying some benefits from increasing tourism. As anyone who has been to that sad, beautiful country will know, Uganda offers superb scenery and entrancing wildlife.

More significantly, visitors meet a people whose generosity of spirit is truly humbling. Tourism will never become the economic salvation of Uganda, but word was spreading among travellers about the joys of the country, and earnings were beginning to rise.

Second, despite the Ugandan efforts to seek out and punish the perpetrators, a strong message has gone out to other guerrilla factions around the world. The moral that men of violence will take from this amoral attack is that by aiming at the softest of targets - people on holiday - you can damage the economy of the host nation, and strike out by proxy against other world powers. The only surprise is that it has taken so long for anti- government elements to follow the lead of the Shining Path in Peru, who wounded their country's economy by explicitly targeting tourists in the Eighties.

The third tragedy would be if these awful events deterred us travellers from visiting regions perceived to be unsafe. Before you conclude that the risk of adventure tourism is too high, put events such as this attack - and the tragedy in Yemen last year, when four travellers died - in perspective.

Statistically, few of the 500 or so British travellers who will die abroad this year will be victims of wanton violence. Instead, you should be concerned about much more mundane worries, such as swimming - about 60 Brits drown abroad each year. But your main focus should be on the skills of local drivers.

Road accidents are by far the single largest killer of British travellers abroad. Tourists should be aware that fatal crashes are alarmingly common in many holiday destinations: Turkey and Costa Rica both feature in the top 10 of most dangerous roads.

The cult of the care is scary. In Bolivia, cars are endowed with their own personalities and baptised by local clergy in a ceremony which goes: "Bless this vehicle. May the driver drive in a Christian way. May the motor not use too much petrol." This does little to alleviate the traffic chaos and dreadful driving in and around La Paz.

In normal times, the biggest threat to human life in Uganda is the matutu. It comprises a minibus generally occupied by too many passengers and too ambitious a driver. While waiting to collect a Ugandan visa at the High Commission in Trafalgar Square, I leafed through the Kampala daily New Vision. The newspaper was crammed full of accounts of road accidents, including one grisly tale of six men who were taking the body of a friend - killed in a crash a few days earlier - for burial. Their pick-up truck collided with a matutu. All six were killed, along with several passengers in the minibus.

The single most effective measure that any traveller can take is to minimise the amount of road travel in countries with high accident rates. If the tourist office won't tell you how bad the drivers are, an objective source such as The Economist's World in Figures will.

IF THE tales in the definitive text on tourism security are emulated, the awful events in Uganda could be used to promote alternative destinations. In Tourism, Crime and International Security Issues, Abraham Pizam and Yoel Mansfeld describe the concept of "substitutability", whereby nearby destinations seek to prosper from instability. The book provides examples from the coup in Fiji in 1987. The state of Queensland advertised its attractions with the slogan "Golden beaches, coconut palms and no coups". The Solomon Islands, meanwhile, announced "War ended in the Solomons in 1945. Why risk Fiji?"

"DOORS TO Manual" is the sassy title for Channel 4's new city break series (Wednesdays, 8.30pm), in which three groups of travellers have 48 hours to experience a new destination.

When a plane departs, cabin crew are told to set "doors to automatic", or to "arm doors". This means that in the event of a forced landing, opening the door triggers the inflatable escape slide. When the aircraft arrives safely at its destination, cabin crew are told to select the "doors to manual". Each must be switched from automatic operation - otherwise, as soon as the main cabin door opens, the emergency slide will inflate. This would prove both embarrassing and rather expensive. So crew must ensure that their opposite number on the other side of the cabin has set the door to manual - "cross-checking".

Pedants (see picture, above) watching the opening titles will have noted the phrase "Cabin crew, cross-check, doors to manual" in the style of a stewardess. This is like telling a motorist to "drive away and start the engine"; until the doors are switched to manual, there is nothing to cross-check.

Perhaps I should get out more often.

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