Text messages to warn travellers of risks

Travellers with cellphones will have a new tool to help keep them safe in trouble spots if a Sydney based New Zealander has his way.

Travellers with cellphones will have a new tool to help keep them safe in trouble spots if a Sydney-based New Zealander has his way.

Australian software house Syntropy has built Overseas Citizen Advisory Register (OSCAR) which it is hoped will help governments issue travel warnings by text and automated voice messages.

Syntropy co-founder, New Zealand-born Matthew Tutaki, says while most countries have a website that lists travel advisories, getting information to travellers who are already on the road is difficult, if not impossible.

"Sure the information is there but who checks once they've booked the tickets? It's not as if the country they're travelling to is going to check to make sure they've seen any advisory that's been issued, are they?"

When a traveller registers their cellphone or landline number with a government agency, like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) in New Zealand, OSCAR would be able to keep them informed of any updates to the MFAT website.

"If it's a low-level problem it could be a text message to the phone. The more urgent messages would be text-to-voice that rings the person's cellphone and tells them."

Tutaki believes that kind of service would have helped in Bali when terrorist bombs killed hundreds late last year.

"We're not trying to piggy-back off that, but it did start us thinking."

The Australian equivalent of MFAT is understood to be looking at OSCAR as an addition to its website offering.

In New Zealand MFAT has recently upgraded its website to better show the travel advisories, says spokesman Brad Tattersfield.

"We've always had that information there but now it's in an easier to read format."

Tattersfield would not say whether MFAT has discussed OSCAR with Syntropy but said the ministry has no plans to introduce such a service at the moment.

The ministry's new page does allow users to list their email address for notification of any updates to the site.

In October IDGNet reported the ministry had made use of the XtraMSN Hotmail log in page to try to track down New Zealand travellers who had been in Bali around the time of the terrorist attacks. The service received nearly 500,000 visits in 48 hours and helped reduce the list of those missing from around 1000 to only 27. (See Web ads help ministry find Kiwis after Bali blast.)

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