Branson slates governments’ terror travel advice

Sir Richard Branson, head of the Virgin Group, which includes Virgin Atlantic airline, has spoken out against what he sees as heavy-handed advice to travellers from Western governments regarding destinations that have suffered acts of terrorism.

According to Branson, advising travellers to stay away from such destinations hands victory to the terrorists, and he wants to see such advice banned. Bali is among the tourist destinations that he believes has suffered an undue decline in its tourism following advice that was issued by Western governments in the wake of a terrorist bombing there in 2002 that caused the death of 202 people.

Commenting in The Independent newspaper, he said: ‘Terrorists put bombs in a Bali nightclub – then for the next 10 years Bali’s economy has been ruined because travel advisories stop tourists from travelling there.’

His concern is not only for the economies of the countries that are affected by a reduction in tourism, but also for the knock-on effect that it has on companies like his own. Using the recent Kenya kidnapping incidents as an example he continued to comment, ‘Terrorists carried out a kidnapping in Kenya – and the US Department of State, by including the word ‘warning’ in their travel advisory, has effectively negated all insurance, devastating industries from tourism to film, and even contributed to making it uneconomical for Virgin Atlantic to continue flying there.’

The Virgin boss then contrasted the reaction to these overseas incidents with acts of terrorism that have occurred in the UK and USA, saying, ‘Governments and people show 100 per cent support and sympathy, as they rightly should…After 7/7, visitors continued to flock in (to London).’

The UK Foreign Office responded by saying that there was a high public demand for travel advice and that the safety of British Nationals abroad was the main motivation for issuing such warnings.

A spokesman at the Foreign Office said, ‘The safety of British Nationals will always be our utmost priority and we have a responsibility to make sure British nationals have the necessary information and advice so that they can make their own choices about foreign travel. We know there is a demand from the public for advice about threats to their safety and security and we would rightly be criticised if UK lives were lost and we had not reflected a known terrorist threat in our travel advice. We rarely advise against travel to a country due to the threat from terrorism. We do so only if we judge that the threat is sufficiently specific, large-scale or endemic to affect British nationals severely.’