According to a new report published last week in the Journal of Travel Medicine, Australia is a safe destination for overseas visitors – at least in terms of tourist fatalities by other than natural causes.
In the period 2001-2003 there were 1,068 overseas visitor deaths recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The majority of these deaths were from natural causes (73 percent), particularly ischemic heart diseases. There were a total of 247 accidental deaths, with the main causes being transportation accidents and drowning.
In the three-year study period, there were only eight homicides recorded for the whole country. This rate is very low compared to other nations, and especially compared to many individual tourist destinations. As noted by Venditto and Mouzos from their 2006 investigation of visitor deaths for the Australian Institute of Criminology, it can be said with reasonable conviction that the murder of overseas visitors in Australia is a statistically rare event. Between 1994 and 2003 the murder rate of tourists was 0.9 per million short-term visitors to Australia.
These findings come at time when many destinations are struggling with issues of visitor safety and security, especially with the heightened concerns surrounding travel and swine flu. Indeed, the recent announcement by Mexico City that it is introducing free insurance for tourists in a bid to bring back visitors scared away by the swine flu epidemic is a good example of the unprecedented steps destinations are taking to reassure visitors about their safety.
Visitor deaths are only one measure of overall safety at a destination. The Australian findings also highlight the very real risks to visitors from motor vehicle crashes and drowning – consistently the two main areas of tourist accidents worldwide. In these areas all destinations can do more to protect their visitors, especially identified ‘at risk’ groups like overseas students studying at colleges and universities, who may often slip under the radar as they live for longer periods within the community but are nevertheless tourists requiring assistance with unfamiliar activities.
Is Australia a safe travel destination? On a range of measures the answer is yes. Is there still more that can be done to assist visitors in unfamiliar areas of activity, such as road and water safety? Again the answer is yes.
In the past, tourism authorities were generally hesitant to talk about health and safety issues affecting visitors and many may still view these Australian findings with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is reassuring to have empirical evidence that Australia is a safe travel destination. But, advertising the fact may set up greater embarrassment should something go wrong in the future.
More importantly, should something go wrong having a strong and established track record of visitor safety performance places the one adverse event in proper context.
At this point in time, travelers are very conscious about their personal health and safety. Concerns about infectious disease and serious crime have a strong influence on travel decision-making. Like Australia, those destinations that can provide a safe environment for visitors, and substantiate their claims, are increasingly attractive.
Dr. Jeff Wilks is a psychologist and lawyer specializing in tourism health and safety. He can be reached via the email address: email@example.com