Wanderlust’s a risky business
What travel advisories can mean for your insurance claims.
The UK government recently downgraded the risk level for British travellers to Tunisia: it no longer advises against travelling to the North African state, two years after the terrorist attack on a beach near Sousse that killed 38 tourists.
This diplomatic exercise means UK package holidays can go on sale to the country and again qualify for travel insurance coverage. Don’t all rush at once.
The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) says this of Tunisia: ‘‘There is a significant threat of terrorism,’’ and lumps most of the country under its ‘‘high risk’’ category – which advises against all tourist and other non-essential travel because of the twin threats of terrorism and kidnapping. Parts of the country remain under the ‘‘extreme risk’’ category.
But why does all of this bureaucratic categorising matter to fearless and intrepid travellers like you? Who needs Wellington pen-pushers tut-tutting your destination when you have street smarts and a bum bag?
Well, travelling there could endanger your life – and hit you in the pocket if your travel insurer refuses to pay out for a claim based on it occurring in an ‘‘extreme risk’’ country – of which there are quite a few.
Obviously the failed states of Syria and Iraq are on it. Surprisingly, these following countries have at least part of their territory fall under the highest risk category: Thailand, Turkey, Morocco, Colombia, India, Japan, Russia and the Philippines.
Although the risk status is broadbrush by country, MFAT in most cases singles out only a few regions within a nation, which are the true risk centres.
Basically, your government slapping an ‘‘extreme risk’’ label on a destination just adds to the unlikelihood that you’ll be covered by an insurer, should anything go wrong.
That’s on top of a list of circumstances they won’t pay out for, regardless of any diplomatic risk assessment.
Natalie Ball, director at comparetravelinsurance.co.nz said: ‘‘Most travel insurance policies don’t cover for events such as strikes, riots, civil protest and political instability, any act of war, terrorism, any event to do with nuclear or chemical weapons, contagious diseases and/or epidemics or pandemics’’.
Out of New Zealanders’ two million trips a year, approximately 48,000 sought consular advice in 2016 – everything from escaping the terror attacks in Europe, to Zika prevention in Brazil, and the earthquakes in Nepal. Both insurers and diplomats add these events into a databank, which assesses the total risk of an area. They then make the call on whether they can continue to tacitly support travel there by continuing to offer help for citizens or policyholders when and if things go bad.
Ball warns travellers who choose to ignore government issued advisories do so at their own risk: ‘‘The travel warnings issued by MFAT are not mere suggestions... heading to a region of civil unrest may seem thrilling but not so much once you’re stuck in a dire situation with no way out.’’
As MFAT’s Safe Travel website says, getting into a bind in ‘‘extreme risk’’ countries means ‘‘the New Zealand Government may not be able to assist you if you are detained, injured, or otherwise prevented from leaving these areas. If you are in one of these areas you should consider departing as soon as it is safe to do so.’’ People are warned against ‘‘all but essential travel’’ to ‘‘high risk’’ countries.
Ball, however, did say that just because a country is on an extreme or high-risk list, successful claims could still occur under certain circumstances ‘‘For example, a heightened warning level due to a threat like terrorism would not restrict your ability to claim on a lost or stolen camera or a bout of food poisoning in that region.
‘‘However, claims related to the issued travel warning – in this case, terrorism – would not be covered.’’ So if you pick up some radiation poisoning from the former Fukushima plant – the reason cited for our government slapping Japan on the ‘‘extreme’’ risk list – then you won’t be covered, but if your bag is stolen in Tokyo, you should make a claim.
Many of the most high-profile terror attacks have occurred in cities such as London and Paris, yet France and the UK are not deemed ‘‘extreme risk’’ (nor should they be).
Meanwhile, there remains a seasonal risk of cyclones in perennial Kiwi favourites such as Queensland and the Pacific. You can never travel risk-free, but it pays to register with SafeTravel.govt.nz. Email if you have a travel issue you’d like Josh Martin, a London-based travel journalist, to write about.
Tunisia may not be high on a Kiwi traveller’s list, but it’s essential to know how to travel safely in high-risk countries.