State on Kyrgyzstan: Don't Go There
The U.S. State Department this week took unusually aggressive action against a tour operator who was apparently failing to inform clients about dangers abroad.
Several customers of Safari Outfitters of Cody, Wyo., which offers expeditions to the central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, contacted the State Department to inquire about travel conditions there. State was surprised that the outfitter hadn't told customers about its strong advisories against traveling there. The public announcement on Krgyzstan cited the incursion of armed groups, the taking of hostages--including four Japanese tourists--and the withdrawal of Peace Corps personnel from adjacent areas. "The security situation in southwestern Kyrgyzstan remains fluid and potentially dangerous," the announcement said. Travel warnings urging "U.S. citizens to defer all travel to [neighboring] Tajikistan" have been in effect since 1998, and the U.S. Embassy was closed last October.
After State contacted Safari Outfitters for a list of citizens signed up for a trip--a highly unusual action--the company wrote a letter to its clients saying the State advisories on Tajikstan are "nothing new"; it also provided more details about security in the region and offered assurances that conditions were safe in the areas the tours visit.
Two days later, on Thursday, State Department spokesman James Rubin took the even more unusual step of issuing a statement saying it has learned "some U.S. Citizens continue to plan for and travel to southern Kyrgyzstan and the area of the ongoing civil war in Tajikistan. We consider such travel to be extremely ill-advised."
The president of Safari Outfitters did not return repeated phone calls; other staff declined to comment.
According to an American Society of Travel Agents spokeswoman, travel retailers should inform clients about official safety announcements--but individuals ultimately bear the responsibility to be informed. Most operators set policy case by case. The Butterfield & Robinson tour company is more straightforward: If State issues a public announcement about a place where a tour is planned, the firm permits full refunds. In the case of a travel warning, B&R cancels the trip.
If you're planning travel to a potentially dangerous destination, check your agent's or operator's policies about cancellations and refunds regarding safety issues.
For travel safety contact information, see the Help File, Page E3.
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