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Terror Alert, Terror Alert, Yawn

Based on unspecified communications intercepts, the U.S. State Department last week issued a worldwide travel alert for the month of August.

The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August. This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013.

So far, the reaction has been a collective yawn from international travelers.

At least in the short term, the travel decisions of individual travelers are just that: individual. It takes time for trends to develop. And at this point, there doesn’t appear to be any widespread pullback from international travel by leisure travelers.

Business travelers, on the other hand, tend more toward group-think, as corporate travel policies are set by managers who belong to the same trade associations and are likely to act in concert. And where safety is concerned, the conservative approach typically wins out.

In this case, the conservative approach would be to curtail overseas travel, at least to those areas specifically mentioned in the State Department’s advisory.

But according to a survey of corporate travel managers conducted on August 4 and 5 by the Business Travel Coalition, 71.4 percent of the represented organizations “will likely NOT make policy changes at this time.” Of those that will alter their policies, half had imposed a temporary ban on travel to countries in which the U.S. had closed its embassies, but none had banned overseas travel outright.

Balancing prudence with business imperatives is never easy, and rarely rewarding. If no terrorist attacks materialize, the conservatives will be stigmatized as overcautious. If an incident does occur and an American traveler is put in harm’s way, the travel-anyway advocates will be faulted for putting profit ahead of safety.

I’d be inclined to err on the side of caution. But that’s the view of just 28.6 percent of corporate travel managers.

Reader Reality Check

Has the recent travel alert dampened your enthusiasm for international travel?

This article originally appeared on

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