Brits behaving badly: new report details travel troubles

Brits need to clean up their act when travelling overseas. Flickr: wanderinghome

Deaths, arrests, missing passports, hospitalisations, rapes and sexual assaults - it’s holiday season and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has published its annual report on British behaviour abroad.

In 2012-13, more than 19,000 Brits sought consular assistance while abroad - an overall drop of 3% on the previous year - though some countries saw notable increases in serious incidents. FCO minister Mark Simmonds expressed concern over a 10% increase in reported cases of rape and sexual assault, but these also happened in particularly popular destinations.

The number of British people arrested abroad has dropped 21% since 2009-10. Hospitalisations and deaths also decreased slightly from 2011-12.

Road traffic accidents and an ageing expat population in Thailand were blamed on a 31% increase in both hospitalisations and deaths. In Jamaica, France and Portugal, drugs were a serious problem, despite a worldwide decrease in drug arrests.

Alcohol use by young British people also played a significant role in consular assistance requests in the Balearics, Turkey and Greek islands.

The Conversation asked five subject-area experts for their view on the findings.

Drug and alcohol use

Daniel Briggs, Reader in Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of East London

It comes as no surprise to me that with the summer come more stories of Brits abroad and excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol. The statistics from the FCO portray these people as responsible for their own behaviour and decisions. But my research based on British tourists in Ibiza, and detailed in Deviance and Risk on Holiday, shows more sinister and subliminal processes at work.

In defence of young British people, representations of the “good life” – spending big, drinking, taking drugs and general excess - are all around them in the UK. Celebrities are seen to have the good life on tap and holidays are marketed as their time to seize on this.

Tourist companies play on these ideas by marketing Club 18-30 package holidays, booze cruises and bar crawls. These set a precedent, teaching young Brits that their holidays should involve drinking, taking drugs, having sex and engaging in violence. Ibiza is a good example of this.

This ideology is constructed for them by tourism operators and the media, and it is so distinct that when people arrive, they are already aware that they are expected to behave in a risky and reckless way.

On holiday occasions, away from home routines and responsibilities and surrounded by friends with the same expectations, these attitudes take on a greater pressure. This is why we see Brits ending up hospitalised, returning home with STDs and possibly even a friend in the morgue. We need to hold companies responsible for the role they play in inciting risky behaviour.

Rape and sexual assault

Jessica Woodhams and Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis, University of Birmingham

According to the FCO’s report, rape and sexual assault of British tourists abroad has risen by 9% and 12% respectively from the previous year. The highest rates were identified in Spain, Turkey and Greece.

Despite the seemingly alarming nature of this rise, details in the report are very sparse. There is no information about the age or gender of the victims or the perpetrators of these crimes. Similarly, the type and context of sexual assaults, for example whether it concerned an acquaintance or stranger, also remains inscrutable.

The report does specify that alcohol appears to be a major factor in these offences, but the basis of this claim is unclear. It is therefore difficult to draw any implications or understand the factors related to such increases without further research and investigation.

This report raises more questions than answers. The FCO’s statements on prevention are laudable, but without more details it is difficult to see what the public can take from the report, or if a coherent strategy to prevent such crimes can be developed.

While countries such as Spain, Turkey and Greece look like sexual assault “hotspots”, they may in fact receive the most visitors each year. These figures need to be considered in relation to the number of tourists who safely travel to these countries.

Consular and legal assistance

Paul Eden, Law Lecturer, University of Sussex

The millions of British tourists visiting foreign countries generate almost 20,000 requests for consular assistance for a range of matters each year. As the law currently stands, British nationals abroad do not have a legal right to consular assistance, and all assistance is provided at the discretion of the Consular Directorate of the FCO.

A premium of under £2 in the price of every British passport is used to help fund this type of assistance. The rest of the amount to cover the cost comes from other fees.

Contrary to popular belief, British consulates don’t give legal advice or translate documents, carry out searches for missing people, investigate crimes, pay bills, hand out money from public funds, make travel or accommodation arrangements or get involved in private disputes. But they do help by liaising with local authorities, contacting relatives in the UK and cancelling lost or stolen passports.

Identity theft

George Weir, Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Strathclyde

Identify theft is usually a precursor to identity fraud, in which the stolen credentials are used to source funds, bank loans or some other commodity in the name of the innocent party.

It’s vital that travel documents are protected. Similarly, care must be taken when using bank cards in unfamiliar ATMs to avoid techniques like the Lebanese Loop; a device that causes cards to seem to be retained by the machine, allowing them to be stolen once the card holder leaves.

Pretence and deceit may also be used to obtain single useful pieces of personal information. One example is a telephone call posing as your bank or travel agent, asking to confirm specific personal details.

Travellers need to take care to avoid information leakage through social networking sites. Do not make open announcements of your travel plans or present whereabouts, since such information may allow miscreants to pretend to be you and contact your friends and family with a “stranded abroad” scam.