State Department travel warnings can have a dramatic impact on tourism. So the Israeli government was none too pleased when State last week issued a notice warning American travelers to learn the location of bomb shelters if they traveled to the Red Sea resort of Eilat because of a recent rocket attack.
Normally it can takes weeks, if not months, for State to update such warnings. But the agency did a remarkably quick turnabout after vehement complaints from Israeli officials, issuing a new warning this week that deleted the reference to Eilat.
“Clearly ,a particular country made its feelings known on this issue,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday. “In retrospect, perhaps we did not have as vigorous a review of the proposal as was appropriate.”
Israel’s Tourism Ministry had complained that Eilat was unfairly singled out because the neighboring Jordanian city of Aqaba was also a target of the rocket attack, which killed one person, but no new warning was issued for Jordan.
Crowley said that the two embassies had decided to handle notice of the rocket attacks differently. Upon review, officials decided that the Eilat incident was better handled by issuing what is known as a “warden message” — a warning by the embassy itself, rather than a warning by the State Department that is posted on its main Web site.
Crowley defended the shift by saying the rocket attack was a single event. “Normally, travel warnings reflect a broader trend, as opposed to one particular incident,” he said. “We haven’t changed our assessment of risk. We’ve only said that because we had a similar set of circumstances being treated different ways by neighboring countries, that the appropriate way to communicate this risk was through a warden message, not a travel warning.”
Last week, the State Department dropped a warning to African-American travelers to Spain about possible racism there just as First Lady Michelle Obama arrived for a brief vacation.