newspaper front page travel disaster
734 days ago
 

How technology and some smart thinking can help with the safety of travellers

NB: This is a guest article by Stuart Lodge, director at RoundTheWorldFlights.

With 2012 seemingly quieter for the industry in terms of major travel shocks around the world, it would be easy to forget about a part of the ecosystem that travellers find important.

Indeed, they often find it essential: government travel warnings and advice.

Last December the new UK government’s foreign and commonwealth office minister in charge of travel alerts appealed to the travel industry for suggestions as to how they can be tweaked and improved, especially by technology.

A few Tnooz articles and comments later have thrown up a some options, but with quite a few issues too.

So here are some suggestions for all governments on how travel (low) tech could help.

Maps

Everyone who I’ve spoken to in the travel industry wants them. As Richard Trillo of Rough Guides says here:

“I think the real issue is that the FCO has saddled itself with the job of advising green, amber or red for every location in the world and not just at country level which is far too crude, but down to specific locations, even within cities.

“With a map for every country, if they could afford to do them (and it’s not a fortune, if a travel publisher can draw maps surely the FCO could have a little budget for the purpose) then, with mouse-over info on those different colours, all would be clearer.

“At present, the map appears to be used where there’s a critical issue to do with safety and/or the size of the market reading the advice and/or the noise of the lobby asking for better info. And there are issues of consistency across borders.”

But there is a fear that they cost too much at a time of worldwide government budget cuts. But I’m wondering if travel tech could slash the cost – for example, with this data set for FCO Travel Advice.

Could it be added to maps, a bit like this?

Or would more data points be needed to reduce the advice from a country to a regional or city level, or could it be at a smaller level? What say you tech folks? Please leave a comment?

A better home page

Australia has got a smashing looking one on its Smart Traveller site. Can everyone not just copy them?

Alert boxes

Australia’s traffic light system also rocks. Clean, easy to read, if a little over-zealous. But let’s copy the design again.

Bloggers

The problem with blogs is having enough time in the day to update them – for example, the FCO Travel blog was last updated almost five months ago.

How about a different approach to blogging – start by getting bloggers or writers to write for it. Maybe in exchange for follow links or unfashionably, with good old fashioned cash, as some of them do like to eat. And drink I’ve noticed.

An appeal through Travelllll might kick-start the process.

Live Q and A

In Pauline Frommer’s words and excellent post on Government Travel Advisories:

“… ‘Is it safe?’ That’s the most common question I hear each weekend, when I take calls from listeners to the nationally syndicated radio show I host. Is it safe to go to Ethiopia? To Jamaica? To Disney World? Doesn’t really matter what the destination is – that’s the question that hangs between thumbs up and thumbs down for the vacation.”

This chimes with what we as travcos hear too. However as the head of the FCO Travel Unit noted on Tnooz:

“…there remains a clear demand from the public for travel advice and not just information; we get a great deal of correspondence asking us ‘is it safe to travel? ‘ and ‘should I go?’ etc. The question ‘can I travel?’ is not really appropriate as we don’t (nor can we) stop people from travelling.”

Perhaps a response would be for the government agencies to copy the Guardian’s Live Q & A format with Tom Hall. It gets a huge response and is popular. Doesn’t have to be 24/7, but maybe just monthly? Could link it with a public Google hangout, too.

Audioboo

If we learned one thing from Wikileaks and Zenjournalist’s book on Thai history, is that a lot of diplomats can write. Really well.

Just a bit of a pity we don’t get to read more of it, more often. Nuance really does come into play with complex travel alerts. Tone too.

As has been pointed out before, a lot of travel advice is pondered deeply and agonised over by a lot of agencies. Part of the problem the travel industry finds is reading between the lines.

We all become Kremlinoligists looking for a read on a situation. And the advice can often scare people, as Travelfish founder Stuart McDonald mentioned here.

One idea to humanise the advice is getting local staff to publish advice. People love a voice, especially when that voice carries honest authority. A little vocal honey may soothe the message. So how about Audioboo? It’s cheaper than video and easy to install and embed. Could be a winner.

Favourite tweets on a online Twitter feed

I have mentioned before about Twitter lists of trusted locals:

“Organise trusted tweeters into lists – this way people can follow one public list. It would certainly have helped in Japan and Thailand earlier this year.”

Finessing that idea a little, and retaining more control, how about including favourite tweets, from local lists, on a local page’s twitter feed. The tweets could be favourited and curated by the local webmaster (or head of info at an embassy or High Commission).

I feel technology is not the issue here. Cojones might be.

Google Translate

Google Translate is cheap to add and does the job. People don’t expect perfection from it but it would give more local people more access to the content of the sites. It’s also a great hack around local censorship…

Mobilise the site

Around 20% of folk are now accessing the web through mobile or tablet. Or is it 4%. Or is it 40%. Lies, untruths and statistics. But it is significant. So it really should be time to mobilise your sites, folks. Doesn’t cost that much.

So, to wrap up:

  • How else can travel tech help governments and travellers in these straightened times?
  • Can government travel sites become as influential as BBC World Service by sharing information not far off real time with the maximum amount of travellers and local people in as many different platforms as possible?
  • Or should we just hope for a reshuffle of priorities.

I feel this debate will continue for some time. What do you think?

Please leave a comment below.

NB: This is a guest article by Stuart Lodge, director at RoundTheWorldFlights.

NB2: Newspaper front page image via Shutterstock.

 
 
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About the Writer :: Special Nodes

Special Nodes is the byline under which Tnooz publishes articles by guest authors from around the industry.

 

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  1. Richard Bielby

    Hi – it’s the Travel Advice Team at the FCO here. Thanks for your comments and ideas Stuart. We are now in the process of preparing to move all of the content on our website to the new government platform (a Beta version can be seen at https://www.gov.uk/). There are likely to be changes to the format and presentation of our travel advice so all of the ideas in your posting will be considered during the course of this transition. The new government site will make RSS feeds and syndicated content available for third party use in a new place (i.e. not on directgov innovate where it is currently hosted). On blogs, we already do quite a lot at the FCO, but I agree we should do more particularly on travel and consular matters. A live Q&A sounds attractive, but people can always get in touch with us directly if they have questions by e-mail, twitter and facebook. I would advise Stuart McDonald to look just a little further down our travel advice page. The ‘about our travel advice page’ has answers to his questions about what the levels of advice mean and what we mean by essential travel. ‘Green’ does not mean it’s safe; it just means we’re not advising against travel to any part of the country (the criteria for advice against travel are also explained on the ‘about our travel advice’ page). We’re following up a report on how we engage via social media and have expanded our crisis management capability following last year’s Arab Spring experience. This includes someone looking at how we use twitter to engage with people during a crisis and I’ve sent your comments to him. Hope this helps.

     
  2. Stuart Lodge

    After a small hiccup the FCO are now using a map in Egypt. And it’s a damn fine one

    http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/middle-east-north-africa/egypt

    More of this I say…

     
  3. Stuart Lodge

    Interesting…

    via FCO travel this evening

    http://t.co/3GA5bHRr we’ve added a map to our travel advice page for Egypt

     
  4. Steve Crowhurst

    Check out the Travel Safety 101 webinar recording here at The Travel Institute website http://thetravelinstitute.com/?s=Travel+Safety

     
  5. Darren Cronian

    The FCO have RSS feeds, i.e. the Travel Advice feed updates when new information is added to a country page, which can be easily syndicated on blogs, websites. So, why not an alert feed, and travel companies, blogs etc. can use this feed, and, whenever the FCO update their website, the alert is published.

    I’m currently updating the Travel Rants blog and FCO RSS feed will be embedded into the sidebar.

     
 
 

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