Warned off

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The Independent Travel
Warned off

Pity the poor Gambia. First its tourism industry was almost wiped out by dire warnings of political instability, withdrawn only after almost all British operators had cancelled their tours there. Now the Gambia is declared by Holiday Which? magazine to be the world's riskiest place.

A survey in the latest issue berates this West African state for the incidence of "illness, theft and mugging". The survey was picked up and reported by national newspapers, including this one. No doubt thousands of potential visitors will be scared away.

But hang on: looking closely at the survey, you find that the Gambia achieves its atrocious record on muggings as a result of a single incident. Only 36 people in the survey had actually been to the Gambia, and just one of them was mugged. Of course, this is one too many, but using statistics to damn a nation on the basis of an isolated attack seems throughly unjust.

For some countries, such as Italy, the sample size is adequate: from a total of 830 visitors to Italy, 17 unfortunates were mugged. But for many nations the numbers are far too small to draw sensible conclusions. Nowhere in the survey is Latin America mentioned. In my experience the robbers, muggers and germs of Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela are truly world- class. Yet to read Holiday Which? you would surmise the continent is entirely populated by saints who enjoy the rudest of health.

The publisher, the Consumers' Association, does excellent work on behalf of the traveller. But to condemn a country on the flimsiest evidence does the CA - and the Gambia - no favours. After all, if that single mugging had not occured, then the Gambia might have been described as one of the safest places in the world.

Courier career

"A complete doddle." That is how Denis Riley of Sheffield describes the work of an air courier, "working" for British Airways in exchange for a cheap flight to Bangkok. Mr Riley read in the these pages that BA had begun selling seats to freelance on-board couriers, and promptly signed up (on 0181-562 6213) for his pounds 399 flight. The work was not onerous. "Just two small packets to carry outbound and nothing at all on the way back." Mr Riley warns that sartorial standards are strictly enforced: "No jeans and no trainers."

If you are able to emulate his example and end up in Thailand, Mr Riley offers a useful tip: "Bangkok at this time of year is death by dehydration. A good way to stay cool is to use the 7-Eleven stores which are all over the city. The ice-cold drinks are cheap and the air-conditioning is heaven."

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