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'Safe Travel' campaign launch

'Safe Travel' campaign launch

Ladies and Gentlemen, It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to launch this campaign today because it is long overdue.

In today’s globalised world, it’s a fact that people are travelling overseas much more frequently. But along with that, risks are increasing, and more and more people are getting into difficulties while outside New Zealand.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is charged with providing what assistance it can to New Zealanders in trouble overseas.

Public demand for the Ministry’s consular services has increased dramatically in recent years, from just over 2500 cases in 1998/99 to nearly 7000 cases in 2004/2005. These cover everything from lost property and general advice through to arrests, deaths, missing persons and child custody cases.

Much of this assistance results from unforeseeable events. If a New Zealander dies overseas, for example, or if a natural disaster strikes, it is reasonable for the public to expect the government to provide prompt and effective assistance, and it does so.

But unfortunately there are many situations where the Ministry’s help is called upon because people have not prepared themselves properly.

It is important to acknowledge that many New Zealand travellers do plan carefully before they head away. But because we travel so often these days, it can be easy to overlook simple precautions that can save considerable trauma later on.

Take insurance, for example. Many people travelling to places like Australia wouldn’t think twice about insuring themselves for the trip. But medical problems can strike anywhere, and overseas taxpayers don’t tend to pick up the tab for New Zealanders.

Two recent cases illustrate the point. A woman who fell and broke her leg in Australia needed an operation, rehabilitation and a flight back to New Zealand – costing $21,000 in total. Another woman who broke both her legs in a car accident in the United States ran up a massive $386,000 in medical bills.

Fortunately, both were insured. But all too often we don’t insure ourselves before travelling.

Passports can also cause problems. A simple check ahead of time on whether a passport is valid and in good condition can save a lot of stress and expense later on.

The government recognises that it has an important role in promoting these and other 'safe travel' messages to the wider public. We need to work harder to explain to people that they can, and should, take a number of easy pre-departure steps to help minimise the risks of travel.

For the past six months the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been working with travel agents, the insurance industry, and airlines to develop the Safe Travel campaign.

It is pleasing that the campaign has the full support and cooperation of representatives of these industries. Without their support the campaign will simply not be sustainable. To cement this cooperation, a safe travel advisory group has been established.

The Safe Travel campaign aims to make good preparation standard practice for travelling New Zealanders. This is a long-term goal, so we have to keep plugging the message. Success will require the help and support of all interested parties, not just the government.

The centrepiece of the campaign is the new Safe Travel website. This site is full of practical information on travel safety, including country and regional travel advisories. The material on the site is easy to find and to read.

The site includes information not previously provided by MFAT, such as a health section with links to official alerts published by the World Health Organisation. The new site will be actively promoted, including through links from the websites of our campaign partners.

The site also links directly to the new MFAT on-line registration facility for travellers. The new database combines onto a single database the voluntary registers of travelling New Zealanders that was held in Wellington and our embassies overseas. This will allow MFAT to provide a more efficient service for the travelling public.

New Zealanders who travel or live overseas are strongly encouraged to register on the new site. By simply entering personal details on the database, and then updating with travel plans as necessary, people have the security of knowing they can be contacted when there is an emergency back home or an emergency in the country they are travelling in.

Ultimately, this campaign, if successful, will be a win-win for everyone involved.

Foreign Affairs staff will always be there as a safety net for New Zealanders in trouble overseas, and tribute is owed to them for the good work they do. But a better-prepared travelling public will help reduce the burden of consular work, and allow taxpayer funding to be directed to cases of genuine need.

Insurers, travel agents and airlines all stand to gain from customers who travel safely.

But most importantly, better preparation will mean that more people will have a happy and safe travel experience. For that reason, this campaign is welcome.

Thank you.


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