Should Stranded Tourists Have To Pay?

On its homepage, the State Department lists a number of countries that are unsafe for American tourists. But inevitably, tourists like the three hikers in northern Iraq find themselves on the wrong side of the border and, next thing you know, are arrested and used as a bargaining chip. France has a solution: It will send tourists who are trapped the bill for being rescued, as well as slap them with a fine.

The French government may have a point. After all, it just shoveled out 720,000 euros to free 500 tourists stranded by ethnic violence in Thailand. These vacationers, the thinking goes, should have known better, or at least read the travel warnings on the foreign ministry’s website. The bill would not apply to aid workers, missionaries or journalists trapped and in need of rescue.

The proposed measure, a version of which also exists in Germany and the United States, no doubt is controversial. But on some level it makes sense. Why should taxpayers have to foot the bill for other leisure-seeking tourists’ missteps? If tourists know they’ll be rescued without any repercussions, financial or otherwise, what’s to stop more of them from just wandering around borders or hot-spots they shouldn’t be?

The trouble is the State Department website is utterly useless. It lists countries as varied as Lebanon, Georgia, Syria, and Iraqi Kurdistan as off-limits for tourists. I’ve been to each of these places recently and can say with confidence that they are entirely safe for tourists. If the State Department and French foreign ministry had their way, no tourists would ever step foot on Middle Eastern soil outside of Jordan, Egypt and the unaffordable United Arab Emirates. We should be encouraging tourists to be more adventurous when they travel, not less, but to use obvious caution. The more Americans see this part of the world (and how remarkably safe it is), the better.

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