Between pandemic outbreaks and unrest in much of the world, global travel inherently comes with more anxiety than before. On top of that, earlier in October, officials issued an updated U.S. State Department travel advisory for a slew of countries, ranging from Belize and Italy to South Africa and the U.K, putting them at a Level 2 status cautioning visitors to “exercise increased caution.”
While the new batch of advisories captured travelers’ attention, the reason they were issued is more complex than it might seem. Most of the updated bulletins were dated October 4 or 5, a few days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) removed COVID-19 Travel Health Notices from its site, a State Department spokesperson says. That change sparked the new advisories, but also drew attention to the warnings that had existed in each country.
Any time there is an alteration to the listed information, the travel advisory for each country will clearly note the reason for the update at the top. As with countries like Belize, Italy, France, and South Africa, the first line of the advisories read: “Last Update: Reissued with updates to health information”—noting that CDC change was the cause for the new advisory, as COVID-19 had been a major factor in these notices for the greater part of the last couple of years.
For many of the nations, that was the sole reason for the update. But the State Department is constantly reviewing the information. Any country with a Travel Advisory at Level 1 (“Exercise Normal Precautions”) or Level 2 (“Exercise Increased Caution”) is reassessed at least every 12 months, while any on Level 3 (“Reconsider Travel”) or Level 4 (“Do Not Travel”) are looked at again every six months, at a minimum.
Moving forward, the State Department’s Travel Advisories will no longer include the CDC’s Travel Health Notices, and the CDC will only issue a notice for a country if a concerning COVID-19 variant is identified that alters recommendations for traveling there.
Large-scale safety warnings
With the health warnings off of these pages, terrorist and civil unrest advisories now sit at the top of many of the countries’ pages. The State Department says that if the latest update was related to one of these reasons, it would be clearly labeled up front. Still, the recent update exposed just how many nations are currently at elevated caution levels.
“Level 2 travel warnings are not normal for these countries at this scale,” Jukka Laitamaki of NYU School of Professional Studies’ Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality says. “Currently, in Europe only Scandinavian countries and Finland have the lowest Level 1 advisory.”
The State Department doesn’t specify what threats are behind the warnings, so it does mean travelers should be aware of the state of affairs in each country. “Pay attention to [the advisories] and use them as an important part of your travel planning,” he says. “Supplement them with local news from the destinations you plan to travel to and consider your own level of risk tolerance.”
It’s possible recent one-off incidents like the Monet painting being defaced in Germany or the upcoming enthusiasm around the World Cup in November could be causes, Rewaken Adventure travel consultant Lori Avirett-Mackenzie says. “So State Department increasing the levels makes sense in a broad and general way,” she says.