There is that third leg of the stool, the one where a client's most important questions come to rest. "Where and when should we go? How much will it cost?" And the one we often ignore: "How safe is it over there compared with staying at home?"
It's hard to talk about the relative safety of the places where we send people on vacation because there are so many variables. The data is not at all clear but, somehow, we have to try to give the client the best response we can. We owe it to them for ethical reasons but also because there could be some liability issues if we do not provide adequate information about issues of personal safety and neighborhoods to avoid.
In this country, for example, serious cellphone hacking and malware attacks occur at numerous tourist sites. Times Square in New York has been identified by mobile threat defense company Skycure as the worst place to turn on your cellphone. Notre Dame Cathedral and Disneyland in Paris are the two leading locations in Europe where phones are targets of malicious networks. Also in the top 10 are Las Vegas and the Golden Gate Bridge. Should we be telling our clients about these threats?
International travel is even tougher to talk about than phone hacking. I believe that one can use statistics to prove that, in most scenarios, Americans are safer traveling abroad than they are remaining in the U.S.
I have tried in the past to point out my belief that when you eliminate all of the subgroups who don't have or ever want a passport, travel for work or only carry a passport because it is now required for travel in North America, the actual percentage of adults who travel internationally on vacation is somewhere between 6% and 8%. I believe that's a much lower potential pool of travelers than is commonly assumed.
But that is the group from which many of us earn our living. So I come back to the question of the third leg of the stool. Do we have an obligation to discuss safety at a client's intended destination? And just how should we share the information?
It just got a bit easier with a website from a company called SafeAround. Launched in 2016 and still under development, with constant updating, SafeAround offers up-to-date risk levels in more than 100 cities and countries. The developers are travelers who felt that going to State Department sites was not as consumer-friendly as it might be.
Countries and cities are rated from 0 to 100 in terms of level of overall safety, measured as a compilation of analyzed data that encompasses the major potential threats to tourists: mugging, overall crime, road deaths, terrorist attacks and threats and local wars. Crime data for everything from murder to pickpocketing is analyzed.
What I like about SafeAround is that it is transparent in its goal of providing objective data analysis. It lists the major sources of its data, which include the French Foreign Ministry Database, the Australia Smart Traveller files, the Economist's Safe Cities Index, U.S. Travel Association government reports, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Better Life Index and Numbeo Crime data. Most are sources the average traveler would never consult.
The philosophy behind all of this is that travelers have, to this point, been primarily sent over to their own government websites where "let's-cover-our-backside" mentalities sometimes prevail.
SafeAround does not deal in safety hyperbole, at least any that I could detect. The current index offers danger rankings for 162 countries and 122 cities worldwide. The rankings and the safety index are dynamic and are updated constantly based on information coming in daily from the various worldwide sources.
Before we look at specific scores, let's understand that any country rated 80 to 100 is considered "very safe." A rating of 40 to 60 means there is "some risk," and if you set foot in the wrong neighborhood or territory, you could be in an "extremely dangerous" situation.
Any ranking below 40 means that regions of the country are considered to be at war. They are best avoided unless you enjoy vacationing in places on the danger list. There are, by the way, guidebooks to such places and journalists who enjoy recounting their travels in harm's way.
So let's look at the safest places on the planet to visit as a tourist. Denmark and Iceland take top honors. Finland is in the top four, as is Austria. Then we have Singapore, where bad behavior is against the law.
New Zealand is also in the top tier when it comes to safety. Each of the countries above has a total score above 90.
The 8th-, 9th- and 10th-safest countries are Canada, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.
Rounding out the top 15 countries in terms of tourist safety are Portugal, Australia (of course -- it is too much effort for an evildoer to get away), Germany, Norway and the Netherlands.
So, all in all, Europe shows rather well when it comes to personal safety.
Of course, little of this addresses the bigger question: How does the safety of the place I am visiting compare with safety factors in the U.S.
For that, and to save you time, I am scrolling down the scores starting from the very top. Surely the U.S. is somewhere up here near the top. I keep scrolling down past the top 15 and keep going past Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Botswana, Albania, Oman. Oh my! This is getting serious. No USA.
I decide to keep going down the list passing Ghana, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Togo. I am now down to the 60th percentile, still safe but rather a long way from Denmark at 94.7.
And then suddenly, I find what I am looking for. Just below Equatorial Guinea is the United States of America, with a safety score of 67.6. We rank 55th on this list of the world's countries in terms of safety.
There is, of course, some good news in all of this. We're ahead of China, France, Israel and Mexico. There are 34 nations that have scores below 40, earning a rating of either "dangerous" or "very dangerous."
I must admit that the bottom of the list includes countries where I routinely send my clients on vacation. These include Myanmar, Rwanda and Russia.
Of course, one can argue that you can use data to prove or disprove almost anything. I get that. I think the collection of data from multiple reputable sources is a step in the right direction, and that is really all that SafeAround provides. But there is, I think, an important takeaway, which is that the data points to the fact that there are 54 countries on this planet that actually are, for the most part, safer to visit than our own. That is both sad and revealing.
You may feel I am being a tad unpatriotic by pointing out our poor standing when it comes to comparative safety for tourists. But I could have made an even more startling case. The newly released safety report from the World Economic Forum, a nonprofit foundation based in Geneva, ranks Finland as the safest country. The U.S. is ranked as the 84th safest, just behind Algeria, Benin and Gabon.
There appears to be some solid empirical evidence that when you travel abroad you are safer than you would be had you stayed at home.
Given that, we ought to be doing a better job convincing people without passports that there is value in seeing a bit more of the planet.