The danger signs: Many of the world's top destinations come with a travel warning


One line in the official Foreign Office travel advice for Kenya that prevailed last Saturday was, with hindsight, chillingly precise: "Any travel to remote areas or border regions could put you at risk of being the target of attacks or kidnappings".

On that day, David and Judith Tebbutt flew to the luxury Kiwayu Safari Village on the north coast of Kenya, the last resort before the border with Somalia. In the early hours of Sunday morning, an armed gang attacked them in their villa; Mr Tebbutt was shot and killed, and his wife was abducted.

On an average day, 500 British tourists arrive in Kenya. Most have great experiences in a wild and wonderful nation with friendly, helpful people. But this tragedy, as with previous high-profile cases, inevitably concentrates travellers' minds on the risks involved.

Since the attack, the authorities in Nairobi have sought to calm fears among foreign holidaymakers: the tourism minister vowed "to ensure the safety of all our visitors". Which is, sadly, an impossibility. The Foreign Office warns: "There is a high threat from terrorism in Kenya"; it notes "incidents of armed car-hijackings are more prevalent in Nairobi and Mombasa but can occur in any area of the country"; and urges anyone heading for the most popular Indian Ocean island to fly: "Vehicles on the road to Lamu have been attacked by armed robbers in the past; overland travel from Lamu to Malindi should only be undertaken in an armed police convoy."

These are not exceptionally strong warnings. Many popular tourist destinations carry significant risks, and yet most tourists encounter no problems.

The Foreign Office stops short of advising holidaymakers to steer clear of Kenya, apart from warning against "all but essential travel" within 30km of the Somali border (Kiwayu is 50km from the frontier). This wording invalidates travel insurance for anyone who ignores the advice, and it is used judiciously. During the uprising in Egypt, for example, the UK was about the only government to judge – correctly – that Red Sea resorts would remain calm and safe. Western governments do not always agree: the FCO places no restrictions on Indonesia, while its Australian equivalent urges citizens to stay away.

In recent years the Foreign Office has transformed its provision of advice to travellers, becoming more adroit at providing solid, well-targeted warnings. One of its latest bulletins, for example, alerts rugby fans to the dreadful road accident record of the World Cup host nation, New Zealand.

The efforts of the travel industry authorities look increasingly feeble in comparison: Abta's code of conduct says merely: "Before a contract is made, [holiday firms must] advise their clients of the availability of any advice issued by the FCO." So, for a trip to, say, Trinidad the sole responsibility is to draw attention to the existence official advice exists, rather than actually warning travellers that a curfew is in force because of some extreme gang-related violence. And while the Package Travel Regulations wax eloquently about the need for tour operators to tell travellers everything from the star-rating of hotel rooms to health formalities, they are silent about threats to safety.

The final decision to go, or not, rests with the traveller. Official advice (such as the examples from around the world, right) is useful, but the best source of information remains other travellers – augmented by sources such as the BBC World Service.

Case study: Nigeria 'I handed over my wallet and mobile phone. I had no more to give'

By Nick Kochan

"He's a white monkey: fire him!" The scariest moment of my life. I was face down on the earth, gripping the ground. I had already pulled my wallet from my pocket and handed it over. I had already given my mobile phone. I had no more to give.

That day in the middle of last month had started as most Nigerian days start, with a negotiation. I had wanted to visit the town of Ife, from Lagos, but needed to hire a taxi. There was a negotiation on the phone and a price was agreed. There was another negotiation when I got in the taxi, as it was not clear to the taxi driver that I wanted to visit Ife (the site of several archaeological treasures, and the spiritual heartland of the Yoruba people of south-west Nigeria) rather than the closer town of Ibadan. I conceded all he wanted, I was keen to get started.

The vehicle was a smallish red car, part of the Red Taxis fleet. The roads to Ife were bumpy and potholed, and it was drizzling. It was the middle of the afternoon before we reached Ibadan, and the driver said it would take between an hour and a half and two hours to get to Ife. (I had been told at the outset it would take just three hours for the whole journey.) By then it would be dark and it was wet, so there seemed little point carrying on.

We would return to Lagos. After dinner in Ibadan, we started back. The road was clearer than before and we whipped along at speed, overtaking wildly many trucks, my driver hooting erratically and flashing his lights to clear a path.

Then, suddenly, we stopped. I was in the back, so I couldn't see exactly what lay ahead. But a crowd of cars was bunched up. We were near a town called Shagamu, on a road ambitiously designated the A1. Unexpectedly, inexplicably, my driver reversed, straight into the car behind. He hit it. Then he opened his door and ran. I head him say: "Escape, they're dangerous."

A large number of cars and lorries had stopped, their lights on, their driver doors open, their engines running. They were empty. Then I saw a man peer out of the undergrowth bordering the road. I thought he was another driver, until he said: "Get down! Money." I handed him my wallet and mobile phone. Another man, red scarf around his head, said: "Don't move, or I'll shoot you." I stayed rigid. I listened intently. A grasshopper clicked. At first it clicked haphazardly, then more regularly. That calmed me.

Time passed – how long I couldn't say. I turned to look at the scene. Numerous cars and trucks on the dual carriage way, all stacked up, lights on. It was dark, doors were open, engines turning over. There were no drivers, no signs of human life.

I stayed that way until some men passed by carrying large machine guns. They didn't identify themselves; they could have been bandits.

"Police?" I asked. Police, they said. I took their arrival as a sign the danger had passed, that the bandits had escaped. I went to my taxi, and as the driver had not reappeared, wondered how I might drive it away.

Eventually, though, my driver returned, looking pale and sweaty. He was eager to claim that he had shouted at me to follow him to the other side of the road, where he had hidden in the bushes. I told him I heard him say "escape" and that was all. The other drivers also returned to their cars, and in due course, they moved off. The road cleared. The event passed.

Back in Lagos, I found out the nation's papers had highlighted concerns from local politicians that safety on Nigeria's roads was deteriorating. It seemed my experience was not uncommon. Indeed, colleagues based locally said I was "asking for it", by travelling after dark outside the comparative safety of Nigeria's largest city.

I'd put my life at risk through ignorance of this simple but scarcely obvious piece of guidance. However this week's tragedy in Kenya, still unresolved, highlights the slim line that often exists between security and violent crime in areas that are, for tourists, some of the most alluring parts of the world.

Nick Kochan is a financial journalist. He was visiting Nigeria to write about the country's capital markets

Trouble in paradise?


“One in four murder victims in Tijuana [the border city facing San Diego] is an innocent bystander. Public shootouts during daylight hours in shopping centres and other public venues as well as large firefights have occurred in Tijuana” Foreign Office


"Al Qaeda and other networks inspired by religious extremism have specifically targeted western interests” Foreign Office


“Adhere to prudent security practices such as avoiding predictable travel patterns and maintaining a low profile” US State Department


“There are high levels of violent crime, especially shootings and kidnappings. British nationals have been victims of violent attacks, particularly in Tobago where law enforcement is weak” Foreign Office


“Violent crime is a serious problem, and the capital city of Caracas has been cited as having one of the highest per capita homicide rates in the world. Kidnappings, assaults and robberies occur throughout the country” US State Department


“Express kidnappings - short-term, opportunistic abductions, aimed at extracting cash from the victim - are occurring in Bolivia … There has been a significant increase in cases of rabies associated with dogs” Foreign Office


“There is a constant and high terrorist threat throughout the Arabian Peninsula … maintain a high level of vigilance and personal security awareness at all times. Caution should be particularly exercised in areas known to be frequented by foreigners” Canadian government


“We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Indonesia, including Bali, at this time due to the very high threat of terrorist attack … There is a risk of rabies throughout Indonesia, in particular Bali” Australian government


“There is a high threat of terrorism in Thailand. Bomb and grenade attacks have been indiscriminate, including in places visited by expatriates and foreign travellers. Sporadic attacks continue in Bangkok and Chiang Mai” Foreign Office


“Bombings have also occurred in both government and public facilities in Manila which resulted in a number of deaths and injuries to bystanders. Kidnap-for-ransom gangs operate in the Philippines and sometimes target foreigners” US State Department

Suggested Topics
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
newsBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case

Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt

The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager - Bristol

    £31000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the UK, the major project fo...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Executive - Meetings & Events (MICE) - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achieving...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Account Executive - Hotel Reservation Software - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A rapidly growing Hotel ...

    Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

    £15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game