Improved travel advice to Yemen [Archives:2004/758/Front Page]
By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff
The United Kingdom announced last week that it had revised its travel warning to Yemen which could help encourage British tourists to visit Yemen.
The British Foreign Office lifted its warning against non-essential travel, once viewed as a potential target of terrorist attacks.
“Any positive changes in travel advice definitely enhance Yemen's tourism industry,” said Taha Al-Mahbashi, Executive Director of Tourism Promotion Board. “Warnings have had a very negative effect on tourism as companies will not cover Yemen when they follow warnings from the governments.”
The British Foreign Office adjusted its warning after the UK government's recent review of travel advice. In June, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that “in the future in the case of intelligence-based terrorist threats, the British government will advise against travel to a specific country only in situations of extreme and imminent danger.”
Although the statement from the Foreign Office dropped the warning against all but essential travel, it included advising tourists about terrorist threats.
“The threat against Western interests in Yemen has not changed. The Travel Advice maintains that there is a continuing high threat from terrorism and that there is reliable evidence that international terrorists are targeting western, including British, interests in Yemen,” said the Foreign Office in the statement.
The Foreign Office lifting the travel warning but still offering advice about terrorist threats did not sit well with some Yemeni tourist agencies.
“Their advice didn't change very much,” said Marco Livadiotti, General Manager of Universal Touring Company. “It lifted the warning, but it also said to tourists that Yemen is still a dangerous place. There was not a big effort to show that Yemen is a safe place.”
The Foreign Office also advised tourists to avoid traveling in areas near the Saada province where fighting has continued.
Clashes between Shiite militants and government forces in north Yemen have been ongoing since the fighting began on June 18th. Tourist agencies have reported that large numbers of foreigners that planned to visit Yemen have canceled their trips as a result of the clashes.
This month the Yemeni government lifted some restrictions that had been in place since the war on terror began after terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th 2001. Travelers from over 30 countries – including nations in Europe, North America, the Far East and the Arab Gulf – can now get a visa entering Yemen at Sana'a International Airport or other places of entry. Individuals can also visit Yemen without having to join a tourist group or come for business.
The government might also make it easier for foreigners to move around inside the country. Tourists have to get permission, are escorted by Yemeni police and are stopped at numerous checkpoints to reach certain areas. Soon, the government may drop tourists getting permission, reduce the number of checkpoints and have police cars patrol areas instead of escorting tourists.
According to Al-Mahbashi, it is important for Yemen to see other countries revise their travel warnings to help give a boost to the country's tourism sector. The United States issued a warning last spring that said US citizens planning to travel to Yemen should “consider carefully the risks of travel to Yemen.”
“We hope that the US warning will change in the near future. This would help tourism in Yemen tremendously,” said Al-Mahbashi.
Security in Yemen has improved since it joined the United States to fight terror soon after the attacks on American soil in 2001. Hundreds of suspected terrorists have been rounded up, and suspects accused of being involved in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and the French oil tanker in 2002 are now on trial. It has been three years since a foreigner has been kidnapped in Yemen.
The British Foreign Office also revised its warnings of travel to Saudi Arabia and Algeria.