Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Scary travel warnings are hurting Honduras

One of the papers ran a big feature this week on tourism in Copan Ruinas and what strategies might kickstart the flagging industry. Somebody mentioned that one problem might be that the marketing approach had become too boring.
   Maybe. But I have a feeling that the terrifying travel warnings about Honduras issued by virtually every developed country might be the bigger problem.
   The U.S. State Department issued its scariest warning yet yesterday, raising the spectre of kidnappings, carjackings, "disappearances," rape, and even the possibility that the Honduran police will kill you. The advisory listed 10 of the country's 18 departments as particularly homicide-prone (sorry, Copan, you made the list), but added that no place in the country can be considered safe. If I hadn't been living here long enough to know better, I'd have concluded from the warning that only a reckless, death-wish kind of traveller would ever consider a trip here.
   The advisory is admittedly more extreme than those from other countries, but not by much. Aided by Google Translate, I searched out travel warnings from governments in Germany, Holland, Canada, Britain and Spain, and found a similar alarmed tone running through all of them.
   The German government paints a picture of a country overrun by gangs, crazed drug-using criminals and feuding families, all with "low inhibitions in the use of firearms." Attacks on strangers have been especially notable on the route from San Pedro Sula to Copan Ruinas, notes the advisory, which also inexplicably cautions women travelling alone to be sure to have someone accompany them at security checkpoints.
   Holland concedes that it's still safe to travel to Honduras, but "not without being extra cautious." Tourists are targeted for theft and robbery because Hondurans "see foreigners as millionaires, who have too much money." The advisory lists the top tourist spots of Honduras - Tela, La Ceiba and Roatan - as dangerous for travellers.
   France cautions that bands of young, armed men target people, "even in groups," in low-traffic areas such as beaches. And watch out for the coast overall, where aggressive boaters, pirates and drug traffickers are waiting to get you.
   The Spanish government makes a rather sweeping statement about all public transportation in the cities being unsafe, and advises that it's best if either your family members or a hotel shuttle takes you to and from any airport. Man, that would break the hearts of the many decent, honest, hard-working taxi drivers I've ridden with in my time here.
    Spain recommends daylight road travel only and warns that organized gangs sometimes attack private vehicles. The government also gives some very specific warnings about certain city neighbourhoods and areas that are best to just skip entirely. Unfortunately for my acquaintances in the local tourism business, one of them is the Department of Copan.
   The Canadian government cautions travellers bound for any of the key tourism sites as well, and adds to the scare factor with a warning about people trying to drug your drinks or give you drug-tainted cigarettes or gum so they can rape you.
   "A large percentage of the population is armed," it adds. "Guns and weapons such as machetes are frequently used in robberies. Perpetrators often use violence if the person resists." (OK, you do want to pay attention to that last part  - you'd be crazy to resist if someone tries to rob you here.)
   Britain's advisory is the calmest of the bunch. Yes, Honduras has high levels of crime, it notes. However, "most serious crime doesn't affect tourists, but attacks on foreigners including armed robbery and sexual assaults do sometimes occur." Best to stay off the beaches at night. 
   I found Britain's comparatively mild-mannered warning the only one of the bunch that was fair to this maligned country that has been our home for the last year and a half. 
   Sure, there's probably at least one real-life story to back up each of the warnings in the other countries' travel advisories. Horrible things happen everywhere in the world. But putting together a string of one-offs in the absence of context is just plain irresponsible.
    I take particular exception to the U.S. State Department's declaration that "crimes are committed against expatriates at levels similar to those committed against locals." The statement is intended to convey that U.S. citizens aren't being targeted and that a traveller is at no more risk than the locals, but that is such a load of hooey. Honduras does indeed have a problem with violence, but overwhelmingly the victims are Honduran, at rates that can't even be compared to the occasional robbery or very rare murder of a foreigner. 
   What can I say? We live here. We work here. We travel around the country, and have even been known to hail cabs in the street. We exercise caution, but then again we always have - in our own country or any other. 
   Yes, there's crime in Honduras, and a murder rate that somebody had best get a handle on before the travel advisories get any more inflamed. But still and all, it's a lovely, gentle, beautiful country, full of good-hearted people who want nothing more than to hear that a visitor likes the place. 
   So take those warnings with a cup of salt and come on down. The country needs you. 


Anonymous said...

Very bad advice and dangerous too

Anonymous said...

very bad advice and dangerous too

Anonymous said...

i was there recently and found your assessment to be reasonably accurate... It is no more dangerous than some places I've been in in the States, and less dangerous than some places I've been in other parts of the world... it certainly isn't Kansas... But its not somolia either.

Anonymous said...

oops.. That would be "Somalia"

Unknown said...

Thank you lady. This is what I think as well. The stupid GRINGOS scare even their mothers so WHAT can you expect!!

Gringos suck hijos de puta.

Anonymous said...

Hey Centro Internacional de Idiomas...you are the reason that "Gringos" will never come to your country. We will never fly there in packs to help your economy, and will never feel safe to enjoy your beaches "at night god forbid". Keep up the good work showing how stupid a "Gringo" would be to come there. Idiot.