Ask the Traveller: Rio

I am travelling with my family to Rio for Christmas and am worried about the current situation. Locals are reporting it as a "war zone". Why has the Foreign Office has not changed its advice to "essential travel only"? If it was altered we would have grounds to cancel our holiday and claim back some of the money from the travel insurance company. Surely they should have our safety foremost? Debbie Pickering

Let’s start with the current situation, as reported by the Foreign Office: “There have been reports of street violence in Rio de Janeiro. Reports suggest that this is due to confrontations between the police and criminal gangs. Most of the incidents have occurred in Zona Norte (north of the city) however this can spread to other areas.” And the US State Department adds: “Brazilian police and media report that the crime rate continues to rise, especially in the major urban centers”.

As often in big cities, the chances of tourists becoming involved are tiny; the violence is confined to the poorer parts of town. The Foreign Office has a difficult path to tread: the only way to guarantee that no British travellers are caught up would be, as you suggest, to urge extreme caution and warn against all travel (or, one step back from that, “all but essential travel”). This is used very infrequently. It has the effect of negating insurance coverage (unless you are already in the location), and when it is applied most airlines usually allowcancellations, postponements or re-routing without penalty.

It would be surprising to see this happen for any part of Brazil. Independent writers travel extensively there, and while there is much higher crime than in the UK the vast majority of local people are very keen to help tourists stay safe. There are also many clearly visible police in the tourist areas in Rio. The city is beautifully located, cultured and fascinating, and a wonderful place to be during the festive season.

If your concerns are not allayed, then the best you can hope for is that your airline/tour operator might graciously agree to a change of destination or postponement, but legally they have no obligation to do so.