This past week has been a rather slow time for travel within the U.S. We've had no really major events, no new fees and charges from greedy airlines and hotels, no unusual new policies, no giant price increases. But overseas, in all sorts of exotic places, this has been a rather troubled time, presenting special problems for adventurous travelers.
The big news continues, of course, to be the eruption of Ebola in West Africa, and most recent travel dispatches have dealt with that scourge and its possible impact on our own country. More recently, the federal government has begun screening passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea at five major U.S. airports accounting for 90% of all such passengers. There have also been anguished appeals by health officials not to totally ban such flights into the U.S;. from West Africa, which these officials believe would only worsen the situation.
Apart from West Africa, several other international tourist areas have experienced trouble. Popular Morocco has seen a sharp drop in its tourism because of the decision by police in Marrakesh to imprison a British tourist for engaging in what they call "homosexual acts". This was a tourist who insisted that he had not come to Morocco for sex tourism, but was simply walking with an acquaintance. The British public has responded by cancelling their trips to Morocco in vast numbers. And it might be well, according to some advocates, for Americans to do the same.
In the Philippines, attacks on tourists visiting the island of Mindanao have led to a sharp decline in the number of westerners vacationing there. And in the far more popular nation of Thailand, in places like Bangkok and Phuket, the number of incoming tourists has fallen sharply because of the military coup that overthrew the civilian government of Thailand some three months ago, which was followed by the declaration of martial law.
Many would-be tourists are concerned about the situation in Thailand, although the new military rulers have claimed, paradoxically enough, that it is now safer than ever to vacation there because they have cracked down, they claim, on various unscrupulous vendors taking advantage of tourists. The jury is still out on whether now is a suitable time for vacations in Thailand.
Finally, in the wake of giant street demonstrations, tourism to Hong Kong has fallen off dramatically, and not only are there fewer westerners going there, but the Chinese government itself has stopped issuing permits for Chinese tour groups on the mainland to visit Hong Kong. The mainland Chinese are no longer visiting there in large numbers, which might, on the other hand, make conditions better for non-Chinese tourism to Hong Kong. You will have to reach your own conclusion as to whether you should schedule a stay in Hong Kong when you go to the Far East.
Now the news isn't all bad. Though some Americans are unwisely cancelling safari tours to Kenya and Tanzania because of their fear of Ebola in countries 3500 miles away, safari tourism to Kenya and Tanzania will undoubtedly show an increase because of the decision of the British government to reduce and weaken the warning its Foreign Office used to issue about travel to Kenya. In fact, the British have now announced that safari tourism to Kenya starting in Nairobi is quite safe, and that if any remaining problems do exist, they are in and near the beaches reached from Mombasa, a very long distance away. Even with respect to the beach areas of Kenya, patronized by a great many British tourists, things are greatly improving, and the British government has softened its earlier warning against traveling to that area.
So there you have it. Quiet and calm within the western hemisphere, where Americans are vacationing in great and improving numbers, but many concerns about going to several fairly remote areas overseas, like Morocco, Thailand, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
One final iffy (to put it mildly) foreign destination, however: North Korea. To my astonishment, it was recently revealed that four to six thousand westerners a year are now attempting trips to North Korea. They should have their heads examined. Periodically, you will read of a western tourist arrested in North Korea on trumped up charges and sentenced to several years of hard labor in imprisonment. North Korea is not a place for tourism. Anyone disagree?