Leading Article: Dangers that go beyond adventure

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The Independent Online
FOR MANY people an element of adventure, and therefore of danger, gives a holiday extra zest. So they go walking in high places, canoeing, sailing, hang-gliding, surfing, diving; or they may drive through, say, the wilder parts of Turkey, take a boat up the Amazon or risk the mines of Cambodia to marvel at Angkor Wat. Such activities involve more risk than everyday life, on top of the high stress levels which, doctors enjoy pointing out, holidays tend to generate.

What is not acceptable is a well-above- average risk of being severely mugged, or even murdered. Yet as the world becomes more drug-, crime- and violence- ridden, the chances of either or both happening are rising. The savage murder of a British jazz enthusiast in New Orleans - the second in a year - comes after a spate of such killings in US cities. Six tourists have been murdered in Florida since October, where no fewer than 35,000 visitors were robbed, assaulted or raped in 1991. When a German woman was murdered in Miami earlier this month, the German consul said that of 300,000 German visitors to Florida in the past year, 1,200 had reported being a victim of some form of crime - roughly one per planeload.

The deterrent effect of these statistics is being neutralised by the current price war between airlines on the transatlantic route. To fly to the US is vastly better value than to fly to most European destinations, and prices there for hotels and food are also low. For Britons faced for the first time with the reality of a devalued pound, those are important considerations - though not as important as staying alive and unmugged.

Ignorance adds to the risks. The least travel agents can do is to warn travellers of the dangers and how to reduce their vulnerability. Agents should also, with Foreign Office support, bring pressure on local authorities to reduce known hazards. It is shocking, for example, that the route out of Miami airport, where many visitors hire cars, should long have been devoid of signposts, thus increasing the danger of tourists becoming lost in a risky area; and that car rental companies should have been allowed to go on advertising potential victims with company stickers.

That said, there are not many parts of the world where at least one British tourist has not been murdered in the past few years. Among the better-known cases were the two Norfolk teachers bound together and shot in Brittany in 1991; an English nurse killed (among many other victims) by Islamic terrorists in Egypt; two young backpackers beaten to death with shovels in the foothills of the Himalayas, and another two murdered in New South Wales, Australia. There was even a young female victim in 1989 in New Zealand, ostensibly one of the world's safer countries.

It happens, too, in London: a young Turkish tourist was stabbed to death at Holborn Underground station in 1988. No country is entirely safe. But some countries - and especially cities - are conspicuously more dangerous than others. Those who visit them should be forewarned, and advised on how best to stay alive.