Finding the harm in false alarm
Dear Hongkongers planning a trip to Bangkok. Welcome to the City of Angels, recently voted favourite leisure city by Business Traveller and Asia's greatest food city by TripAdvisor's legion of readers and contributors.
But wait. Stop, cancel, flee, you crazy fools. Do not come! Hong Kong's Security Bureau still has Thailand listed as a flood-ravaged, threat-laden amber-alert destination (as this column went to press).
Travel in the modern age is a fraught business at best, where one must run the gauntlet of gimlet-eyed security guards, suffer scanners that reveal you in all your naked splendour and quake with terror every time a fellow passenger bends down to tie his shoelaces. And governments don't make things any easier with their broad-brush, panic-stricken and often ill-advised advisories cranked out by bureaucrats in bunkers with scant regard for the facts or the effect they have on people's livelihoods.
Bangkok, admittedly, has a bit of history when it comes to things that might ruin your holiday. If the floods don't get you, the red shirts, yellow shirts, multicoloured shirts, flu-ridden birds or the military might. But while the pictures on CNN and BBC might show a city in flames or engulfed by an inland tsunami, throughout all its recent woes, Bangkok for the most part went about its business as usual.
During the political riots, the strife was confined to a couple of key locations. And during the recent floods, Bangkok's central business district, centred on Sathorn and Silom roads, and its main tourist strip, Sukhumvit Road, were unaffected.
Destinations such as Phuket, Koh Samui, Krabi and dozens of other renowned island paradises, not to mention the hilly northern provinces, were hundreds of kilometres away from the affected areas.
There seems to be little rhyme or reason - and certainly nothing resembling common sense or co-operation - when it comes to travel advisories. The mainland and Singapore lifted any cautions against travel to Thailand on November 23, but on that date Hong Kong still had it listed as a red-alert country. And just six days later, a horde of Hong Kong journalists arrived in the Land of Smiles as guests of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, meanwhile, suggests travellers 'exercise caution' when visiting any provinces still affected by flooding. Pity the poor Brit in Hong Kong planning a sun-drenched jaunt to Phuket, for example - whom should they heed? How is it possible that a country could be dangerous for, say, Hongkongers, Americans and Australians, while Canadians, Indians and Russians can come and kick their heels up without care?
Seasoned travellers have more sense than those who issue travel advisories and make their judgments accordingly. But for the nervous first-time tourist, they must be a massive source of angst. Surely the time has come for some sort of travel alert co-ordination centre that sings from the same hymn book. Advisors, heed this advice.