Last year the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) undertook a public and industry consultation of their travel advice. The FCO recognised that global threats are continually evolving and aimed to explore whether there were any changes they could make to the content and presentation of their travel information to help British travellers.

One of the main changes they considered was to develop the traffic light system and introduce a fourth tier, adding a level between the green tier (no advice against travel) and amber tier (advise against all but essential travel). This new tier would have been used to indicate a country where there is no advice against travel but where extra caution and vigilance is recommended. The four tier system was rejected by the travel industry. In ABTA’s response to the review they stated that ‘the existing system benefits from being simple to understand, is well established and recognised’ they further stated that whilst the industry is mindful of recent events, they fail to see how a new tier would increase consumer awareness.

One change which was approved was to add more detail to the terrorist advice including adding predictability and likelihood of attacks. This is supposed to give additional information and intelligence to British travellers allowing them to make a more informed decision and better understand the levels of risks in their proposed travel plans. Rather, the advice remains very generic, and appears to reflect the position that the FCO are unwilling to be more definitive for fear of opening themselves up to criticism in the event that they may wrongly categorise a destination.

Two weeks ago the resultant changes came into effect. Having considered the changes, we question whether the review has added anything substantial to the traffic light system. The review was perhaps a lost opportunity for the FCO to give greater clarity to British travellers, who are travelling in times of uncertainty in relation to terrorism threats, and who are not as familiar with the traffic light system as those who work in the travel industry. For example, the amber tier can state in relation to a specific destination ‘advise against all but essential travel’, but one person’s idea of what is ‘essential travel’ can be very different when compared to another’s. The current definition therefore remains vague and subjective to British travellers and could lead to some destinations becoming unnecessarily avoided. Further, in the light of the recent Inquest into the Tunisia Sousse beach terrorist attack, the FCO may not want to be too prescriptive in order to avoid pre-empting the attitude of courts.

Readers are reminded of their obligations to make passengers aware of the existence of travel advisories issued by the FCO.