Thursday, October 7, 2010

Europe Travel Alert: What You Need to Know

Europe Travel Alert
On Sunday, October 3rd, the US State Department issued an alert to Americans traveling in Europe to be vigilant about possible terrorist attacks. Specifically, the decision to caution travelers comes as counterterrorism officials in Europe and the United States are assessing intelligence about possible plots originating in Pakistan and North Africa aimed at Britain, France and Germany. The alert does not discourage Americans from traveling to Europe. Rather, it emphasizes the ongoing mindset of awareness that has been advised for the past several years.

Should you be concerned about the Travel Alert to Europe?
Concerned? No. Aware that our world is home to people with varying political and religious beliefs? Yes.

Based on current information, we have not altered any of our program itineraries at this time. We are following events closely, and firmly believe that Europe will continue to be a safe destination for our students.

No student programs are scheduled in the near future to England, France, or Germany. The next scheduled departure is not until June of 2011, more than 8 months from now. We fully anticipate that the travel alert will be revised and the level of threat reduced as recent events have demonstrated and will be monitoring the situation closely until the alert is rescinded.

People to People Ambassador Programs have a long history of safely traveling over 400,000 students and leaders. Changes in the global political climate remind us why we take the responsibility of safety so seriously. You can be confident in the diligence we take when it comes to the safety and well being of our delegates, leaders, associates, and partners around the globe as we offer life changing educational travel experiences.

The safety of our delegates is my only priority.
At People to People Ambassador Programs we would not hesitate to adjust or cancel a program if we felt our delegates were going to be in harm’s way. Our safety team along with our senior leadership team monitors all situations that could pose a threat to anyone traveling on one of our programs. I am personally monitoring the situation in Europe and receive updates from many sources throughout the day. We will continue to monitor developments associated with this alert and make any necessary changes to ensure participants' safety.

We are committed to taking action if necessary.
In years past we have, at times, adjusted programs up to the point of cancellation when a travel advisory was in place. Recent examples include redirecting an Ecuador program in the summer of 2010 to mitigate the risk presented by an active volcano, along with the cancellation of a Morocco program in the summer of 2007 due to an active advisory. In 2010 we came very close to canceling a program in Russia for one of our citizen programs, but a little rain and shift in the winds made travel to the area safe - and the experience turned out to be wonderful for those delegates.

How do we prepare for these situations?
That's why I'm here, to look at possible problems or potential threats and develop plans to remove that possibility. Issues like this come up every year and we prepare for the worst and welcome the better news as it arrives.
  • In 2009, the big challenge was H1N1. We developed a plan, surveyed all families in advance of travel resulting in not one case of H1N1 in Australia, Japan, or China, the three countries with the greatest entry restrictions.
  • In 2010, as ash from Iceland began shutting down European airports, we immediately devised a plan to transport thousands of students out of Europe in the event they became stranded. Fortunately, the governments worked hard as well, and new systems were put in place to regulate air-space. We ended up having no incident involving the volcanic ash.
How do we decide whether or not to travel to a country?

In making the decision to proceed with any program, our senior leadership team relies on up-to-date intelligence gathered from a number of organizations, including the US State Department, the Overseas Security Advisory Counsel (OSAC), the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and international safety and security specialists.

Regarding the Europe Travel Alert, we receive multiple updates from these organizations on a daily basis and will stay very close to this situation until it is no longer a concern. If the current conditions continue, and in any way hinder our ability to provide safe and rewarding programs, we will not hesitate to alter itineraries, redirect programs to safer regions, or provide other alternatives including outright cancellation.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers 

Senior Director of Health and Safety

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