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Mexico & Central America / Natural Disasters

The Travel Detective’s Travel Tips and Advice on Swine Flu

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Black PigAs reports continue to come in about the swine flu (or the H1N1 influenza virus) and travel, it’s important to remind you that there’s a great deal of difference between concern and the worst four-letter word that starts with the letter “f.”

Fear.

When it comes to travel to Mexico, we need to put all of this concern into some realistic historical context.

Remember the SARS “outbreak and the SARS “crisis?”

Well, there was no SARS outbreak, and the crisis happened because no one traveled to the region. It wasn’t a medical emergency, but an economic one powered by fear.

But even SARS didn’t stop smart travelers from going, and when I traveled during that time to Hong Kong—when hotel occupancies hovered around 3 percent—I had one of the best travel experiences ever.

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How about the avian flu? As things developed, about the only people infected (and there were incredibly few of them) were those who actually worked on chicken farms.

And have you forgotten the hoof-and-mouth disease scare in the United Kingdom? Did that stop you from traveling to London?

28 Months LaterAnd when you got off the plane, were you greeted by any people frothing at the mouth? Of course not.

And now we have swine flu. Should we be concerned? Of course we should, but concern should lead to proactive thinking. Check with your doctor. Age, your own immune system and medical history (as in, do you have a pre-existing medical condition?), are factors that should determine whether or not you travel to Mexico—or for that matter, to Montana.

And then it gets down to your own personal hygiene routine. Do you wash your hands before and after eating? Before and after going to the bathroom? Stay hydrated? This is simple, basic, but effective common sense.

Now, having said that, should you travel to countries like Mexico? Of course you can, and you should.

My philosophy is going to sound somewhat politically insensitive, but anytime there’s a natural disaster, a civil disturbance or just a crisis such as this one, it’s a great time to travel.

Why? Because you’re traveling when everyone else isn’t, and you’re putting your travel dollars into a destination that desperately needs it. We’re talking great deals, great services, and great opportunities as travel providers roll out the red carpet for your arrival. And in some cases, it gives you an additional opportunity—to give back.

How many vacationers to New Orleans after Katrina helped in the rebuilding effort? Thousands. Did it make a difference?

Absolutely.

There’s nothing wrong with an abundance of caution; the problem is when there’s an abundance of fear.

Check out what I told CNN on the issue:

Right now, Asian countries like Japan and China have the right idea. When travelers arrive from North America, they have someone at the airport with a thermal device that will take your temperature. This is technology that was first used during the SARS threat, and it makes sense today. If your temperature registers too high, you might be quarantined.

But the reaction to the swine flu “emergency” begs another question. Given the increased mobility of people throughout the world, and the ease at which some diseases can be transported—and spread—by travelers, shouldn’t entry to any particular country be conditional on being in good medical condition?

Specifically in areas of communicable people-to-people diseases I’d argue that EVERYONE entering a country—including the U.S.—should have their temperature checked. It couldn’t hurt.

For now, nearly all of the airlines in the United States are waiving any penalties or cancellation fees if you don’t want to travel to Mexico, and that is the responsible thing for the airlines to do.

But what about hotels?

It’s one thing for airlines to announce that they’re waiving cancellation fees, but hotels are currently doing it on a case-by-case basis. For a lot of people, that means saying goodbye to their deposit. Just another argument for purchasing travel insurance.

By Peter S. Greenberg for PeterGreenberg.com.

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