The Mumbai attacks of last November were still going on when a number of western governments started issuing adverse travel advisories asking their nationals to cancel all plans of visiting India without even the actual details being fully known.This ad hoc and knee jerk reaction of western countries in regard to travel to India and some other countries in this area is not a new thing. This has been happening all along and shows a typical bias and prejudice which these people hold against us. The US Government website states, “The Department of State warns U.S. citizens that there is a high threat of terrorism throughout India, and advises U.S. citizens travelling to or already in India to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness, especially during the end-of-year holidays until India’s Republic Day, January 26”.They have put the entire India as a terrorist threatened destination. No sane person would have the courage to travel to India after reading such a discouraging advice. The British have gone a step ahead and their website states, “There is a high threat from terrorism throughout India.Future attacks may target places frequented by Western visitors and expatriates. Security levels have been increased at major airports. Travellers should therefore expect delays and allow more time when checking in. British nationals should exercise particular caution when in the vicinity of key government installations and tourist sites, attending public events (including religious and sporting events), and in public places including hotels, airports, shopping malls, markets and on public transport”.Then they give a virtual history of terrorist incidents in different parts of the country. In case of Jammu & Kashmir, special treatment has been given. The Travel Advice in the very beginning says, “We advise against all travel to or through rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir (other than Ladakh), and all but essential travel to Srinagar. If you intend to travel to Srinagar then you should only travel there by air.Despite the best efforts of travel agents who will try to convince you that it is safe to travel to this region, increased official promotion of Kashmir as a tourist centre and improved relations between India and Pakistan, tensions remain high, particularly in Kashmir. There was widespread violence across rural and urban areas of Jammu and Kashmir in the months of July and August 2008. Curfew restrictions imposed in the Jammu region at the time have been lifted and conditions are returning to normal.There remains, however, a heightened risk of further volatile and unpredictable violence in Kashmir, including car bombs, grenade attacks, bombs on roads and shootings”. The Australian Government has straight away told its citizens to reconsider all travel to India. Their website carries the advice as, “We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to India at this time because of the very high risk of terrorist activity by terrorists and militant groups. If you do decide to travel to India, you should exercise extreme caution.”In case of Kashmir they simply ask their nationals not to travel at all! “We advise you not to travel to the state of Jammu and Kashmir (north India), other than to the Ladakh region via Manali, or by air to the regions main city of Leh, due to frequent armed clashes, terrorist activities and violent demonstrations. There is an ongoing dispute between India and neighbouring Pakistan regarding Jammu and Kashmir. Serious security problems remain in Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as other parts of the state. Recent civil unrest and violent demonstrations in the state of Jammu and Kashmir have resulted in the deaths of dozens of people since June 2008, with the cities of Srinagar and Jammu the worst affected. Tensions remain high with the possibility of violence spreading to surrounding areas.”These sample advisories taken from the internet show how our destinations are being projected as terrorism prone spots. In view of these advisories it is difficult for group tourism to move to these places. No insurance company will cover any travel to these areas. Bulk of tourist traffic these days is group travel. As regards getting these advisories modified or removed, it is a difficult proposition. I have a personal experience in this regard with the British Foreign Office. During early 1998 I was visiting London and the then Indian High Commissioner there Mr. Salman Haider arranged my meeting with the India Desk Officer in the British Foreign Office.I explained to them that the situation was very conducive for tourists to visit Kashmir. They agreed with me but expressed helplessness in view of the 5 missing foreigners who had been kidnapped in Kashmir. According to them unless their death was certified, they could not proceed in the matter. After following the case with the State Home Department, a death certificate was issued on the basis of the report provided by the concerned Police authorities. This certificate was sent to the British Foreign Office.In spite of this they did not modify the travel advice. In fact, earlier advice had been stating that the Indian Travel Agents should not be believed even if they say situation is suitable for travel. This sentence has been omitted and modified in the present advice probably after some protest from the Indian Travel Agents Association.In this situation, it is no use trying to get western tourists to Kashmir in large numbers. Promotional efforts in western countries would be waste of time and money. It would be better for us to concentrate on alternate markets. There have never been any adverse travel advisories from any of the South East Asian, Middle Eastern, or Central Asian Countries regarding travel to India in general and to Kashmir in particular. During all the years of turmoil, Kashmir has received a regular stream of visitors from Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Malaysia.In fact, during last couple of years up market Malaysian tourists have been coming to Kashmir in appreciable numbers. For all these three regions of South East Asia, Central Asia, and Middle East Kashmir represents a short haul destination. With the airport at Srinagar getting operational soon for International flights, it would be worthwhile to concentrate on these regions and try for direct charter flights as is being done by Goa Tourism Department. They receive over 500 charters every season from different tourism generating markets.There is need for promoting Kashmir vigorously in these short haul markets. The State Tourism Department should sponsor two way FAM Tours from and to these places. Every important Travel Mart should be attended by the industry players from Jammu & Kashmir. In fact, in 2004, the then Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayed had announced through a press conference in Dubai that the State Government would set up a Travel and Trade Bureau there to vigorously promote Tourism and Trade from the Region.However, after his handing over the power, the new rulers completely forgot the commitment. There is need to revive it especially if the proposed Srinagar-Dubai direct flight starts to operate. With the success of these flights and dispersal to other regions, similar set ups can be established in Singapore and Tashkent. These will cover all the three potential markets for both tourism and trade. If we are able to put this type of Tourism Marketing Plan in action, we will have no need to bother about the Western Travel Advisories and that would be the most appropriate strategy to counter these.
Seasoned travelers know when a discount travel insurance policy is actually needed. Let’s be honest, obtaining insurance coverage is an added cost to travel and you don’t always see benefit from it. It is therefore crucial to determine beforehand when travel insurance is necessary before purchasing coverage.Before obtaining a discount travel insurance policy, one must first evaluate the future travel situation. What is your travel budget? How much are you spending on plane tickets? What about hotel accommodations? Are you planning on shopping or going to lots of expensive sights? Your travel budget does not have to be perfect but it is good to have a rough idea. If your travel budget is something like $2000, then a $50 or $100 travel insurance package is reasonable. After all, medical care in foreign countries can quickly become very expensive. If so, then travel insurance need not be necessary.Here’s another question to consider: what kind of coverage the insurance company will cover expenses in case of an unexpected and unforeseen events? These may be defined as natural or man-made events. Most corporations do not provide insurance coverage in cases that have already become “public knowledge,” so if one is faced with the possibility of traveling to a country that has just experienced a tsunami or some other kind of devastation, purchasing travel insurance may be a waste of time. Likewise, traveling to a war zone is another case where travel insurance will likely not be issued or cancelled as soon as you land.The same goes for airlines that are blacklisted from coverage from the insurance company. These organizations are most likely classified as being close to bankruptcy or are prone to union strikes. These airlines can be considered highly likely to experience flight cancellations and other interruptions. Check with the insurance provider first if one’s airline of choice is indeed covered by their policy.One need not purchase travel insurance when traveling in a location where expert medical care is readily accessible. Most travelers opt to purchase additional insurance as a sort of buffer in case of unexpected medical emergencies. However, those traveling locally need not purchase anything else as these services will be made readily available to them.Most people still opt to purchase travel insurance regardless of the situations mentioned above. If you do decide to obtain coverage for a low risk travel destination, decide which types of coverage you are willing to pay out for. Since a full travel insurance coverage may be priced very high, a good way of paring down unnecessary costs is to go over the policy and review the fine print. Always remember to avoid duplicate coverage (e.g. if your credit card provides basic coverage, carefully think over what kind of supplemental coverage you actually need).For instance, rental car accident and damage coverage is less of a concern for those who do not drive or those who have coverage through their companies. By reviewing the policy and removing the unnecessary elements, one can be assured to a plan that is customized for the traveler. When driving in a foreign country, you may at heightened risk of an accident due to unfamiliar signs, different traffic laws and different vehicles.Being prepared at all times is arguably one of the best travel tips one should keep in mind. Purchasing a discount travel insurance policy can indeed be necessary as long as one is aware of the situations that call for it.
THERE’S ALWAYS TWO SIDES TO THE STORY!I’ve been a medical traveler for many years now and have had numerous occasions to review a large number of Travel Company web sites. Most of them contain some type of Q & A section that explains how they work and what they offer. I’ve found that the information given, while accurate, is very incomplete.Most of what I’ve learned about the medical travel industry has been learned through the proverbial School of Hard Knocks. It occurred to me recently to write an article that expanded on the usual information given on medical travel websites, an article that presented (as Paul Harvey used to say) the “Rest of the Story.”And so…here we go!SALARYTravel Company: On their web sites Travel Companies usually state a salary range that they offer depending on the type of position, your area of expertise and your experience.Rest of the Story: What you are initially offered for a travel assignment is usually not the top dollar that is available for that assignment. Most travelers merely accept what they are offered believing the “deal is the deal” for that particular assignment. I used to do that too… but not any more!You especially limit your chances of getting the best salary for your assignments if you choose to register with only one travel agency. When you do that, you give away all leverage to negotiate for better pay. I am always registered with multiple travel companies so I can compare several potential assignments at once and negotiate for the best over all packages.There are numerous other “pitfalls” when it comes to getting the most compensation for your travel job. For example, it behooves you to clarify the stipulations for receiving certain types of bonuses and whether you must work solely for one company to earn those bonuses. Again, if you work for only one company, you may unknowingly forfeit higher compensation in other areas of your benefit package in order for the company to offer you those bonuses, in which case they can hardly be called a bonus.Remember, you can always, “work your best deal,” (negotiate) with several companies while still remaining highly professional. In addition, knowing how to ask for more will telegraph to a recruiter that you know your business and will position you to receive the best offers.HOUSINGTravel Company: Travel companies always state they will provide you with fully furnished housing while you are on your assignment.Rest of the Story: You may be asked to share a two bedroom apartment with another traveler, even a stranger, who is working at your same location unless you know you can request a one bedroom separate apartment.Some travelers have been “required” (because they merely accepted this arrangement) to live in an extended stay facility for the entire 13 weeks of an assignment. This is very cramped quarters and becomes extremely wearying after just a couple of weeks.I have seen travelers deal with other conditions that were very undesirable such as having their housing located too far from the hospital. I had this experience on one assignment (before I learned to clear all that up in advance!). Each morning I had to make my way through 10 miles of early morning rush hour traffic to reach the hospital.In addition, fully furnished means different things to different people. If you don’t know what to ask for in advance you can be stuck with things like a poorly furnished kitchen (only a few sad looking pots and pans for cooking) as well as sparse and unattractive furniture (an ugly green sofa and purple chair spring to mind).Knowing what your options really are and how to ask for them is paramount to having a comfortable, safe, convenient and enjoyable living arrangement. Multiple considerations are there for the asking, but you definitely have to ask. By clarifying in advance what I need and expect, and by applying simple to learn negotiating techniques I’ve perfected over time, I now receive the very best housing accommodations on all my assignments.GENERAL BENEFIT PACKAGESTravel Company: All travel companies offer a variety of benefits besides housing and salary which can include per diem pay, travel expenses, bonuses, clothing and equipment reimbursement, insurance, continuing education, 401 K’s, etc.Rest of the Story: Travel benefit packages are definitely not all equal! For instance, one travel company’s insurance coverage may not start until 30 days after you have begun your assignment versus a policy offered by another company that becomes effective the first day on the job. These and numerous other “small print” concerns can come back to bite you if you’re unprepared!I’ve also talked to nurses who were never offered per diem pay (the average is $30.00 a day or $210.00 a week) but others were receiving it simply because they asked for it!
Some were told they could elect to have per diem pay but would receive fewer benefits in other areas if they chose that option. However, that was not the case for other travelers who refused that trade off. I know I continually receive per diem pay on ALL my assignments without sacrificing any reduction in other areas of compensation.To make your travel experience the most lucrative and enjoyable, it pays (literally!) to know what is available as well as how to access those top of the line benefit packages.TRAVEL PROVISIONSTravel Company: Travel companies offer a variety of ways to cover your travel expenses. If you are required to fly to your assignment, your flight costs will be paid in advance and your travel itinerary arranged for you plus a rental car will be provided once you arrive at your destination. If you are desirous of driving your own car to your job site, you will receive mileage compensation and/or a flat fee amount for travel expenses.Rest of the Story: Travel companies can save a lot of money by booking you on flights that leave or arrive at undesirable times of the day or night or that re-route you all over the place, necessitating you change planes frequently.I had that experience early on in my travel career (oh what a novice I was then!), when after 3 stops, and long layovers, I finally landed at an airport at 1 am in the morning that was a full two hour drive away from my job site! Just to add to the misery, after that two hour drive in the middle of the night I arrived to find the hotel booked for me was the ultimate rat’s nest with a stuck heater system that turned my room into an unbearable steam bath.I also have some rather interesting stories about the type of cars that were rented on my behalf (tin can anyone?). Fortunately I’ve learned how to avoid all those nightmares and now travel comfortably and at reasonable hours.The point is that if you don’t know your way around the available travel options, plus know how to negotiate for the best travel considerations, you can have some pretty nasty travel experiences.JOB LOCATIONSTravel Company: Travel companies paint a somewhat glamorous picture of the places you can travel and the wonderful experiences you can have.Rest of the Story: If you’re a traveling novice there is a very good chance you will end up in some out of the way place or hospital that is anything but glamorous. Travel companies are anxious to fill whatever positions that present (after all, that’s how they make their money!) and so they can offer less than desirable job locations to those who don’t know how to navigate the system. That certainly happened to me the first time I took a travel position. I landed in a miserable little town with a very boring job assignment. It made for a very long 13 weeks!Just knowing you might get dealt the “low end of the deck” if you’re new to the game can help you avoid something really dower. However, even seasoned travelers are often not getting the best assignments that are available. Thankfully, over time I’ve learned what to ask for and what to avoid, and more importantly, how to spot a bad job location no matter how many bows are on the package.THE BEST JOBSTravel Company: Travel companies accurately state that a recruiter will contact you about a job opportunity and will give you a general overview of the job, its requirements, and what salary and other benefits are being offered. You will also have an opportunity to ask whatever questions you wish concerning the position.Rest of the Story: Recruiters are going to provide the basics of the potential job assignment to you but they are not going to go into any great detail unless it is in direct response to your questions. You should also be prepared to ask pertinent questions of the hospital representative if you should decide to interview for a position presented to you by the recruiter.I remain astounded at the number of even experienced travelers that either do not ask many questions concerning a potential job assignment or don’t know what to ask to find out the “nitty gritty” of what the job really entails. As a result, there are many travelers who are quite “surprised” (and not in a good way!) about the real facts once they reach their job destination. And of course, like it or not, they are bound by a legal contract to fulfill their assignment.Just by asking the number of staff that will be working on your floor or in your department, the number of patients or tests you will be expected to oversee or perform, and the ratio of permanent and travel staff, you can begin to get a definite feel for what you will encounter. Recently while considering a position, I was able to ask those questions plus several others that revealed there had been a recent “uproar” in the department with people leaving in mass, leading me to decide not to jump into the fray.I am always being treated to the latest horror story concerning jobs that were anything but what they were thought to be. That doesn’t have to be your story if you learn the right questions to ask in order to get the real picture.IN CONCLUSIONAs you can see, knowledge is power! Without it, you’re in for a very bumpy ride in the medical travel world. I’ve explained just a few Q & A areas where travel companies are only giving you the basics of the process. Unfortunately, relying on “just the basics” will have you collecting a few horror stories of your own!