Budget Travel Abroad in Pariah Destinations
Avoid the Crowds and Travel for Cheap
Some destinations never seem to catch the fancy of travelers, or they’ve gone off the "hot list" and are now avoided. The casual tourist doesn’t even consider them. Most North American vacationers go to the Caribbean, Western Europe, or one of the coastal tourist areas of Mexico. A look at the ads in a Sunday newspaper travel section will show you where most of the traffic is heading. But who's going to Jordan right now? Or Morocco? Or almost anywhere in Asia?
A country featured on the nightly news immediately becomes a pariah, even if the trouble is isolated, such as a bombing in Casablanca or a demonstration confined to La Paz. Pariah destinations are often next door to where the trouble is, like Turkey and Jordan during the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Countries suffer by association: Vietnam quickly licked SARS but suffered nevertheless because it’s in Asia. Some countries still retain a bad reputation from long-gone events, such as last decade’s attacks on tourists in Egypt. And some countries are so associated with a bloody history that we cannot get past the image burnt in our minds. Think of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Croatia.
But we can put these outdated or erroneous notions aside; a bit of research will show that in most cases the fears are unfounded or at least overblown. Granted, visiting parts of Colombia, war-torn parts of Africa, or the Aceh province of Indonesia is probably not a wise move right now. However, the unjustly maligned will welcome you with open arms and offer you travel deals you’ll find hard to believe.
Tourism ministries often go into panic mode when they sense that they’ve hit the "out of favor" list. They try discounting state airline fares, subsidize rock-bottom hotel deals, and lower admission prices to museums and attractions. In Southeast Asia during the SARS scare many air/hotel package deals were low enough for even budget travelers to afford.
State Department officials have said it’s safe to go to Jordan now, but Petra is still a ghost town. The Jordan Tourism Board has cut admission prices to all sites in half, including the wonders of Petra and Jerash. In Egypt a couple sharing a room can find a top-notch hotel for the price of a hostel bed in Europe, breakfast included.
The pattern repeats itself throughout the world, where the effect of Americans staying home is bringing deflation to the international tourism industry. Visits to Nepal by U.S. visitors, for example, are down nearly 40 percent from last year. The result is lower prices and even warmer welcomes.
A recent worldwide global risk perception survey conducted by the public relations firm Euro RSCG found a wide disconnect between reality and perception when it comes to personal threats. "Terrorism was cited among the top five greatest threats by more than 60 percent of respondents in each region, while obesity made the top five among just 6 percent of the sample. And this despite the fact that in the U.S. alone some 300,000 people will die this year as a result of obesity."
Casablanca and Bali are probably two of the safest places to visit now, because of stepped-up security and vigilance.
To find out what’s happening to tourists at street level, check out Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree message board for daily updates. Read online versions of the country’s English-language newspapers. Then visit the Pariahs. The locals will be glad to see you and you’ll probably save enough money to pay for a return trip.
TIM LEFFEL, a regular columnist for Transitions Abroad Magazine, is the author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune: The Contrarian Traveler’s Guide to Getting More for Less and The World’s Cheapest Destinations. He is also editor of PerceptiveTravel.com, featuring narratives from some of the best wandering authors on the planet.