UK: Despite travel warning, PH mostly ‘trouble-free’

Paterno Esmaquel II
Steph Lysaght, first secretary of the UK Embassy in Manila, says their travel warnings only cover parts of Mindanao

GENERALLY SAFE. UK Embassy officials Steph Lysaght (1st from right) and Thomas Phipps (3rd from left) say it's safe to visit the Philippines – except parts of Mindanao. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II

MANILA, Philippines – United Kingdom Embassy officials on Tuesday, August 27, sought to downplay their updated travel warnings on the Philippines, and said the country is mostly “trouble-free” despite some threats on foreigners’ safety.

Steph Lysaght, first secretary and head of the political and economic section of the UK Embassy in Manila, said their travel warnings only cover parts of Mindanao.

“The main message is, we encourage, we want all people to come trade, invest, and visit the Philippines, but we also want people to be aware that there are different risks on the island of Mindanao, and they should be careful to understand what they are, and to act on it,” Lysaght said.

Lysaght clarified this to journalists in a roundtable discussion Tuesday, incidentally 3 days after the UK last updated their travel advisory. 

The latest update involves an “imminent kidnap threat against foreigners in Zamboanga del Norte province in Mindanao.”

‘Blown out of proportion’

Lysaght said there is a difference between updates and “fundamental” changes to travel advisories.

“We do update our travel advice regularly, so they’re credible and fresh for people who may read it, but that is different from whether our general advice has changed. The general advisory for the Philippines hasn’t changed, and it hasn’t changed for quite a long time,” he said. 

Thomas Phipps, second secretary for security, said media has sometimes blown their travel advisories out of proportion.

“I think sometimes there have been occasions when I felt that a relatively standard sort of update has received more coverage than I would’ve anticipated the update should receive. Not that it’s necessarily sensationalist, but it gets more prominence, more column inches, than I would’ve expected,” Phipps told reporters.

The UK bases “95%” of its travel advisories on open-source or public material, he said.

No tentacles ‘everywhere’

In interpreting the UK’s travel advisories, he added, it is wrong to think “it has great intelligence operations around the world, it’s got tentacles everywhere, and we know what’s happening.”

“It’s about trying to be abreast of the things that are happening,” Phipps said.

Issued not only by the UK, travel warnings have cast a shadow on the Philippines’ goal to boost tourism.

The Philippines is eyeing almost 135,000 tourists from the UK alone, the Department of Tourism (DOT) said in the Association of Asian Nations Tourism Forum in Laos early this year.

READ: Tourism industry to get boost from lifting of EU ban

The DOT said it expects the number of tourists from Europe to double to 600,000 within a year and a half, from the current 300,000. This is after the European Union opened its skies to Philippine Airlines by lifting an aviation ban. –

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at