Under the microscope: International travelers challenged anew

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 81 of the February 2009 issue.

Experienced international travelers have become used to periodic disturbances, including acts of violence in foreign lands, and typically factor such considerations into travel plans. Most are also philosophical about the fact that, on occasion, foreigners traveling overseas are also victims of such acts. This reality, however, does not deter most travelers from their chosen explorations. This is because, in terms of risk/reward assessment, basic common sense prevails.

Catastrophic event psychology

We know from the experience of 9-11 that travelers can react with pure raw emotion as opposed to the normal resident component of rational common sense.

In reaction to the horrors of 9-11, most travelers of all types stopped traveling by air, many for extended periods and some permanently. It was not the actual events of 9-11 but the human emotional response to those events that crippled the airline industry and the travel industry in general, not only in the USA but worldwide. Tens of thousands of travel industry and related jobs were permanently lost when people, based on irrational levels of fear, simply stopped traveling by air.

This tragic unfolding occurred despite the fact that within days of 9-11, airport and airline security had been greatly improved, making air travel much safer than it was before that disaster. Rational common sense regarding the risk of traveling by air had, however, disappeared from the equation, and this avoidance behavior continued unabated for months.

The result was the casting of a dark shadow of shame on our national consciousness. That refusal to step up and act with defiance and bravery in the face of challenge allowed the 9-11 terrorists to obtain a victory of intimidation that extended far beyond the disaster in New York.

September 11, 2001, revisited

On Sept. 11, 2002, for the purpose of reporting to ITN readers on the experience, I intentionally traveled to South America on one of the first flights after midnight to depart the USA on the first anniversary of 9/11/2001.

It was indeed sobering. I reported on a virtually empty Miami airport and on traveling aboard a United Airlines flight that normally had a flight load of 85%-plus but which on this occasion departed at less than 25% capacity and with only three Americans aboard.

The forces of terror, without additional effort, had been conceded another great victory a full year after the 9-11 hijackings. We had become the land of the free and, en masse, the home of the unbrave. The definition of defying the bad guys had sorrowfully become wearing a New York Fire Department T-shirt and flying an American flag in the front yard.

India — learning from the past

These numbing words are being written less than 24 hours after the end of the bloody siege in Mumbai that dominated our news for three days in late November. By the time they are digested by ITN readers, many weeks will have passed and, undoubtedly, increased security measures will have been instituted in Mumbai, throughout India and in scores of other destinations throughout the world.

The result will be that travel to those destinations will be safer, perhaps much safer in some cases, than it was before the Mumbai tragedy. Due to events that will result in India’s being safer to visit, for those planning future travel to India there will be no reasons based on fact to cancel their plans.

A personal note and challenge

I traveled to India in July 2008. In Mumbai I stayed not only at the targeted historic Taj Majal Palace but in the precise section that was set ablaze during the November attack. In the near future I plan to travel to India again, based on the above rationale.

I strongly encourage readers who were considering travel to India before the events in Mumbai to follow through with those plans, refusing to concede defeat. Please do not pretend that your actions in this regard don’t make a difference, because collectively they make all the difference. We know this all too well from the painful lessons of 9-11.

What example do we set?

ITN readers, as frequent world travelers, tend to possess a much broader understanding of the realities versus the myths of traveling abroad, especially concerning safety and security issues, than those who do not travel overseas.

Most of us have, at times, been discouraged by less-well-traveled friends and relatives from visiting certain foreign destinations that we each accept as being safe in terms of risk/reward assessment. As travelers, we now face a period of challenge again and it will not be the last time.

Finally, India is quite simply far too magnificent a destination to miss based on safety concern reasoning that, with increased security measures, flies in the face of logic. The treasure-laden subcontinent beckons.

Keck's Beyond the Garden Wall

❝ For that which is not prized is indeed lost
The freedom to venture forth willfully
is nay the exception
Be therefore not deterred from your appointed rounds ❞
— Randy reflecting on the content of this column