Wan­der­lust’s a risky busi­ness

What travel ad­vi­sories can mean for your in­sur­ance claims.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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