Where Can Anxious Travelers Find Safety Information?

Recently, I wrote a post about relying on your common sense to stay safe when you travel. In it, I poke a little fun at the advice people often give anxious travelers.

“Just use common sense,” is what they say most often. “And you’ll be fine.”

People who offer this gem must not know they’re preaching to the choir. Hodophobes are probably the least likely among us to take risks that are unmeasured, unconsidered, uncalled for, or unreasonable.

We’re much more apt to err on the side of caution. We don’t need to be told what the warning sign at the top of the page appears to be telling us – that if we get too close to the cliff’s edge, we might fall off. We know that. That’s why we stay at a safe distance. That’s why we stay home.

Of course, not everyone who gets a few butterflies before a trip is a full-blown hodophobe. Sometimes nervous travelers really are just seeking a little reassurance. Maybe that’s what “tuhinac” wanted when she asked TripAdvisor readers for advice.

“i wanted to see hows the scene in Cancun right now since US issued a new travel warning this week for 5 mexico states,” she writes in the Cancun forum. “i know cancun isnt one of the places but wanted to get a feel..” *

Several TripAdvisor readers offered advice. Chris K of Cozumel tells her she’ll be just fine as long as she doesn’t do drugs or get into politics, not that there’s any indication from tuhinac that those are her plans. Shoepuff23 says she should “…be mindful of who is driving you, and make sure to stick to the nicer areas.” And Bruce F suggests: “Be aware of your surroundings, when you go off the resort try not to go alone.”

All the Common-Sense Travel Advice You’ll Ever Need

If reassurance was all tuhinac was after, she’s got it now. And she won’t need to post again about future destinations because she can apply the advice she got to just about any country in the world. Here’s all the common-sense advice you’ll need when you travel.

  • Use only transportation you can trust.
  • Stay in nice areas.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Take a companion with you on your excursions.
  • Don’t get stoned and try to overthrow the government.

Got it? Good!

But I get the feeling that tuhinac was after something more specific. Even though the advice we get is pretty uniform, no matter where we’re going, our destinations aren’t all the same. And that’s a good thing, because if they were, why even bother to hit the road?

Tuhinac wants to know if Cancun in particular is safe. Has anyone on TripAdvisor been there recently? Were there any problems? Did they feel threatened? Where they harmed?

Geoffrandal1967 weighs in with some of that kind of advice. He and his wife are in the final hours of a 10-day trip to Cancun (and he’s looking at his TripAdvisor app). They always felt safe in Cancun, safer than in NYC, as a matter of fact. Why, they were just commenting to one another about this very thing…

TripAdvisor loves that kind of response. They’ll allow it. There’s a chance it will lead to clicks on the ads that paper their site.

But if geoffrandall1967 had said instead that he’d been drugged at a Mexican resort, or that he’d been injured or raped, or fired upon by a drug cartel, tuhinac might never have seen his remarks.

Don’t Get Your Travel Safety Advice from TripAdvisor

Problems with the site have been thoroughly documented, so I’m not going to go too far into them again here. I’ll just point you toward Heather Stimmler-Hall’s excellent article on Medium.com, this Daily Mail story, and this video of resort patrons who tried to warn readers of dangers, based on their own vacation experiences. TripAdvisor deleted their reviews.

TripAdvisor weakly defended its actions after the negative press started rolling in. Finally, they reversed their stance and allowed reviews they’d originally deleted for not being “family friendly” enough to appear on the site. Kristie Love’s report of being raped in a Mexican resort was one they reconsidered and decided to publish. However, the posting date of her original review was retained. Since TripAdvisor reviews are arranged chronologically, Love’s was buried under hundreds of more recent reviews.

Where Can You Go for Trustworthy Safety Reviews?

If tuhinac can’t get the full picture from TripAdvisor, where can she go for the information she’s seeking? Stimmler-Hall gave me a lead in describing a similar site, TravelExpert.com as the more accountable choice since their reviews are written by travel professionals who write “…for leading travel publications like Travel+LeisureLonely Planet, Michelin, etc.”

I gave TripExpert a go by searching for two of the Iberostar hotels on its site, the Paraiso del Mar near Playa del Carmen and the Iberostar in Cancun. I assumed these hotels couldn’t be found on TripExpert, since it only lists “…hotels, restaurants, and attractions that have been endorsed by multiple experts.” The site is relying on real journalists for reviews, and there’s been a lot of bad press about the Iberostar resorts in Mexico lately.

For example, Kathy Daley was hospitalized after apparently being drugged or given tainted alcohol at the Iberostar in Cancun. She tried to warn TripAdvisor readers about her experince, but her review was rejected as being “hearsay.”

Abbey Connor’s story of her stay at the Iberostar near Playa del Carmen is similar but even more tragic. Like Daley, she lost consciousness after drinking a cocktail she was served by Iberostar staff at the pool bar. Soon after, she slipped beneath the water and drowned, a fact her heartbroken parents learned only after calling down to the front desk and asking an employee to ring her room.

TravelExpert lists both hotels on their site, based on the word of other travel publications and businesses. One of the Iberostar reviewers it bases its rating on is Oyster.com.

Oyster bills itself as the “Hotel Tell-All.” They say their “…photos are undoctored” and their “…reviews are honest, so you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get before you arrive.” I guess they emphasize this as a way to differentiate themselves from their owner (guess who?), TripAdvisor.com.

The two Iberostar hotels I’ve just told you about have won numerous awards from Oyster. They’re listed as being one of the Best Luxury Hotels in Riviera Maya, one of the Best Beach Hotels in Mexico, etc. And TripExpert, likewise, offers the hotels’ owner, Spanish billionaire Miguel Fluxà Rosselló,  a chance to claim his “Expert Choice” badge from the site. What has to happen at these hotels,  I wonder, before they lose their standing?

If Not on Review Sites, Then Where?

People who are looking specifically for safety information can try the U.S. State Department’s website. Tuhinac knew this government office had issued advisories for some Mexican states. If she’d gone to their site, she might have seen that even though only Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacan, Guerrero and Tamaulipas were tagged with the State Department’s most severe warning, visitors to the entire country are being advised to use “increased caution.”

All of Mexico is under a Level 2 Alert for travelers, as a result of its “violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery… The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas of Mexico as U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel to these areas.”

In Quintana Roo, the state in which Cancun and other popular resorts are located, travelers are advised to exercise increased caution. I guess that means you need to do more than just use ordinary caution, AKA common sense. Homicide rates are increasing in the area. Most murders are the result of clashes between organized criminal elements and drug cartels, the kind Chris K suggested tuhinac avoid, but tourists have (rarely) fallen victim when bullets start to fly.

I’m from the Government, and I’m Here to Help

According to FirstCoastNews.com, the State Department may be minimizing the risk in Mexican resort areas like Cancun and Playa del Carmen. For one thing, it publishes reports about American deaths that occur overseas only when they are established as “non-natural.”

Abbey Connor’s death surprisingly didn’t meet that criterion. When her parents found her, she was technically dead but hooked up to life support. They moved her body to Florida, where her organs were harvested and the machines that had kept her heart beating were removed. That’s the official location of her death.

The State Department’s reporting guidelines may be influenced by a conflict of interest similar to TripAdvisor’s. “The U.S. government actively encourages U.S. commerce, trade, and investment with Mexico as well as tourism and educational and cultural exchanges” according to their website.

Those are all admirable goals. I’d like to invest in Mexico too, as long as I can expect to stay safe by using common sense when I go.

Any Ideas?

Travel industry consultant Skift has noticed the atmosphere of anxiety that permeates our days. They’ve coined a new word to describe it – permanxiety. Travel should give us a break from our everyday fears; it shouldn’t make them worse.

“What can travel brands do to…alleviate travelers’ anxieties?” Skift asks (and a darn good question, too). “What role do brands play in all phases of the travel cycle, from inspiration to research to booking to post-booking to the actual trip?”

What indeed? If you’re trying to figure out which hotel to book or where to eat, there are lots of sites out there to help you. But fast service/soothing décor/thread count – that’s not all we’re looking for. We want “safe” too. Where do we find that? Any ideas?

I don’t think the site I’m looking for is out there yet. It would be sort of like TripAdvisor, only focused on safety. And…you know…honest.

I don’t have the time or resources to found such a site, but somebody out there does. Where are you, people?

Even as I pose the question, Lloyd D is asking TripAdvisor readers: “How safe is it to travel to hurghada?” And bbeckett responds, “Assuming the visitor uses ordinary common sense, it’s safe enough…”



*If you get a 404 message when you click though, it’s possible that TripAdvisor or one of its minions removed the post. If you’d like to see it, shoot me an email and I’ll send you the saved PDF.

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