More U.S. citizens are traveling the world today, and they’re traveling to increasingly exotic and sometimes dangerous destinations. Twenty-five years ago, fewer than 10 million of our fellow U.S. citizens held passports. Today, there are more than 118 million passports in circulation -- roughly one third of our population. The State Department estimates that 7.6 million U.S. citizens live abroad and more than 65 million citizens travel abroad annually.
In the Bureau of Consular Affairs, our highest priority is to keep those citizens safe. It’s not an easy task. We can’t know where U.S. citizens will choose to travel, but we do know that sometimes they will turn up in places that maybe we wish they had not. That is out of our control. What is in our control is to do everything we can to ensure citizens have the necessary information to travel safe and travel smart.
One way we do this is through Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings. We issue Alerts for short-term events in foreign destinations, such as elections or hurricane season. Warnings are issued when long-term conditions in a country lead us to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country.
We publish this information on our website, travel.state.gov, and our @TravelGov Twitter account, and the media often pick up on and amplify these messages. Even so, we want to do more to reach our travelers. We know that, as much as we would like them to, not every traveler will visit our website or seek out our Twitter feed or come across a particular story in the media.
That’s why the Bureau of Consular Affairs developed an Application Programming Interface (API) to share our Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts. Developers can access this data in the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud and package it for use in websites and mobile applications.
If that last paragraph sounded like a foreign language, here’s what it means for you as a traveler: Your favorite online travel agency can now incorporate this real-time data into its site. If they do, when you purchase a ticket, you’ll be able to view the latest security information on your destination within that same website. A university could program the data into a mobile application that delivers information to its students studying abroad. Businesses and non-governmental organizations can integrate it into resources for representatives in far-flung locales.
All of this supports the White House’s Digital Government Strategy, which challenged government agencies to do more to deliver information and services anytime, anywhere, on any device.
And we’re not done: Next we will make our Country-Specific Information (CSI) pages available via API. CSIs provide detailed information on every country in the world, including entry/exit requirements, road conditions, crime and medical information, and information for LGBT travelers.
We often say, “An informed traveler is a safe traveler.” Our goal is to get our information to U.S. citizens. How they get that information -- through our website or Twitter account or through websites and applications conceived by innovative developers around the globe -- should be up to them. We invite you to use this data and join us in our mission of protecting U.S. citizens overseas.
About the Authors: John Whiteley and Sara Veldhuizen Stealy serve in the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs. Mr. Whiteley is chief of the press unit and Ms. Stealy is an information officer in the new media unit.