It is clearly important to understand the risks inherent in traveling to specific countries, as well as the risks inherent in travel in general, before concocting an itinerary and heading off into the wide blue yonder. That said, it is also important to understand that risk perception is inherently magnified by the fear of the unknown – and to note that no-one would ever take a new job, or have a child, or get married, if they spent all their time worrying about the consequences of those actions.
What’s really important, then, is to understand the genuine likelihood of risk becoming reality – and to take the appropriate steps to ensure that it doesn’t.
Risk Portrayal versus Risk Reality
The reality of a risk, in other words the likelihood that a potential danger may become an actual problem, is expressed in the idea of the risk assessment. An actual informed investigation of risk probability has to play a part in the assessment period: and it is interesting to look at the difference between risk portrayal, which informs the perception of risk; and risk reality, which creates the findings of the assessment.
The current British perception of health and safety regulations is a classic example of risk portrayal being out of all proportion to actual risk. Recently, the Government department responsible for regulating health and safety (the HSE, or Health and Safety Executive) pointed out that the difference between what it actually recommends, and what businesses do, is enormous. The reason for this seems to be that an increasing litigation culture has caused businesses to be so afraid of being sued for not performing their health and safety duties that they have begun to stamp out any form of perceived risk no matter how ludicrous – causing conker fights to be banned in school playgrounds, or employees required to wear protective goggles when making soup.
Real risk assessment calculates the probability of something untoward happening in a given set of circumstances. This is how insurance premiums are calculated.
Travel Insurance and Risk Reality
The purpose of travel insurance is to protect the policy holder against real risks inherent both from travelling as a basic thing, and from travelling to specifically risky parts of the world. Someone travelling to Germany, for instance, is unlikely to catch malaria or other tropical diseases; but is likely to lose his or her passport; have his or her luggage stolen; or find that his or her hotel has failed to make his or her booking properly.
As a result, the insurance premiums for travelling away to Germany for a week are likely to be lower than those levied at travelers going trekking in the Amazon Basin.
The Traveler and Risk Awareness
Risk awareness plays an important role in preparing for travel. If you are going to a malarial area, for example, it is important that you take precautions to combat the disease before you leave your home country.
The actual risk of catching malaria in most “malarial zones” is quite small – though there are some places where the disease is particularly rife. The official advice, which errs on the side of caution, is to purchase a full course of antimalarial tablets prior to leaving the UK, and to begin taking them two weeks before entering a malarial area. You should also continue taking for two weeks after you leave.
In reality, the traveler may feel that the risk of malaria in the place he or she is going to is so low that antimalarial tablets are an unnecessary expense – and that strong mosquito repellent is good enough. The actual decision he or she makes, though, must be made based on absolutely accurate medical information rather than hearsay.
All risk in travel is proportionate to the area in which a person travels. The key is to know as much as possible about the real risks before one departs, and to prepare accordingly.