The new State Department travel advisory website is gaining praises from industry participants for its cleaner design and easier to understand format.
“I like it and think it’s an improvement. It’s following the trend to design websites that deliver a lot of information in one screen, as to not lose them,” said Laurie Dickinson Lee, CEO and co-founder of Swift Passport Services in Chicago. Her firm processes about 10,000 travel visas each year, so it works extensively with agents and travelers flying internationally.
Lee said she especially likes the color-coded map, “so I can visually know the status of an alert before I even read about the specifics. I like how they have travel advisory levels with specific wording such as “reconsider travel,” and “do not travel.” I like how traveler assistance is on the right-hand side of each page.”
“I feel like if I had an emergency abroad, I would first go to this website as a reference. I trust this website,” she said.
Eben Peck, executive vice president, advocacy, at the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), has been working with the State Department directly on travel warning issues for several years, and had been briefed on the changes prior to the public launch last week.
So far, Peck said, he hasn’t received direct feedback from members, but believes the website and simplified advisory system is an improvement.
“We did historically encounter some confusion on the differences between travel warnings and alerts and other aspects of the old system. All in all, we view the new system as an improvement on the old and commend the State for both their work here and their outreach efforts to the agency community.”
Similar to the confusion the State Department faced understanding their own warning system, ASTA had been helping its members and their clients sort through the old warning/alert system.
“Under the old system,” Peck said, “guidance for countries covered by a travel warning was sometimes ‘do not travel’ and other times ‘reconsider travel.’ Also, some countries had a warning against them, while others had an alert, and many had no guidance whatsoever. Now, the messaging is clearer – do not travel vs. reconsider travel vs. other guidance – and every country has its own guidance,” he said.
Lee, who conducted a thorough review of the site over the weekend for Travel Market Report, said she also likes how easily the new site links to local embassy messages for greater warning details. “It’s really helpful if I am on the phone with a client who is abroad, and trying to help them coordinate where to go for help.”
Lee also praised the site’s “quick facts,” section, though she saw some countries didn’t have one. “I think it should be at the top of each country page because it is so important. I reference this all the time because it indicates things like how many blank visa pages are required, passport validity requirements (valid @ time of entry, 3 months, 6 months, etc.), whether or not a visa is required and information about vaccinations.”
She also thinks the website spells out worst case scenarios fairly accurately. “I think it’s a good move to protect people from the worst case scenarios, however when traveling, I might not exercise quite as much caution as advised” on the State Department’s new site, Lee said.