With a focus on time and money, most executive travel is limited to trips between the airport, hotel and businesses meetings. Yet even with this tight schedule, there’s still scope for the executives’ safety and company information to be compromised.
Recent events show how the threat to personal safety in a country can change almost overnight. Take Britain, for example. Three deadly terrorist attacks in 75 days forced it to raise its threat level to “critical” in May.
But while terrorism has grabbed a lot of headlines in recent years, largely due to its sheer unpredictability and ability to shock, there are other risks that are much more likely to put the travelling executive’s safety at risk.
Theft – money, data and information
Many popular overseas destinations – from Rome and Paris, to Nairobi and Johannesburg, to cities throughout South America — are notorious for pickpockets and petty theft. Wallets, cameras, phones and bags are the target. If a thief can see it, they’ll take it.
But it’s the theft of data and company information can have a bigger impact on travelling executives. Executives need laptops, mobile devices and smart phones to be able to work on the go, but these devices they also hold valuable company information, contacts, emails, photos and also personal information.
Even the smallest piece of information – a name, a person’s position, their email or location — could be used for criminal advantage.
Manage the risk:
- Always log on to a secure network when accessing company information on devices.
- Put a lock or passcode on your phone.
- Have an extra phone handy so that you can call your IT department to deactivate your phone or computer.
- Take an extra phone (one that doesn’t have access to emails or other information) and use it just for phone calls.
- Store sensitive company information on a memory stick, which is easier to keep safe than a laptop.
- Don’t leave any company information in your hotel room. Shred or destroy any printed information.
- Avoid withdrawing money from ATMs on the street. Use those in hotel lobbies where possible.
- Keep your valuables you don’t need in your hotel, zip your bag up and keep it close to your side, rather than on your back.
Local travel — know where you are going and who you are going with
Executive travel needs to be planned and secure from the moment an executive’s plane lands at their destination. This means ensuring that the transport between the airport to the hotel is secure.
While modern cities usually have taxis operated by registered drivers, transport in developing countries can be less secure. This could mean a risk of theft or, in worst cases, kidnapping and extortion.
Manage the risks:
- Travel between airports and hotels through a reputable company. The driver should meet the executives at the airport with a sign. Use that same driver or company for all local travel.
- Know where you are going and pay attention. If the driver starts to take another route for no clear reason, question them.
- If the vehicle is not metered, agree on a price before getting in to avoid disputes later.
- Be wary of cities that have high rates of car jacking. Lock your doors and don’t leave valuables visible in the car.
- Be organised. Allow plenty of time between flights and meetings to avoid feeling rushed and taking the less safe option.
- Check where the hotel is located. Make sure it’s in an area with lower crime rates and close to amenities.
Lack of situational awareness
Put simply, situational awareness is “knowing what’s going on around you”. Situational awareness understanding is key to safe executive travel. They need to be able to anticipate what might happen next, to know how to respond and to adapt to a changing situation.
For example, an executive who has travelled to a European city might want to go to the city’s home football team’s match. The stadium is packed and the scores level with 10 minutes to go. The crowd starts to get rowdy. That’s a cue for the executive to know where the exits are, and perhaps move closer to them. They should zip up their bag, make sure their shoelaces are tied and be ready to move if things get out of control. They should also know what they will do once out of the stadium.
It’s not just big crowds. Being aware of what’s around you is just as important when walking along a quiet street. If you see someone acting strangely up ahead, cross to the other side of the road or try and get somewhere, such as a restaurant or convenience store, where there are more people.
Illness and preventable disease
In the last decade, pandemics have posed a risk to executive travel throughout a range of countries. There was the Bird Flu virus that swept through Asia and parts of Africa, to mad cow disease that caused alarm in the UK. The deadly Ebola Virus that took hold in Africa to the Zika Virus that was put under the spotlight during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. That’s just to name a few.
The mass movement of people, including Syrian refugees across Europe, also brings the risk of exposure to disease. Fortunately, most of these are vaccine preventable.
Manage the risk:
- Be up to date with vaccinations.
- Check with a GP any further vaccinations needed for the country you are visiting.
Ability to blend in
The person walking down the street holding a map out in front of them and looking up at street signs is easily identified as a foreigner.
As is the person who becomes frustrated, waiting in a long line, in a country where the person who is served first is the one who manages to push to the front of the line!
The executive proudly wearing their company-branded jacket will be identified as a target. Even Australian athletes at the Rio Olympics were discouraged from wearing their uniforms because they would be easy prey for thieves and criminals.
Manage the risk:
- Don’t wear flashy or expensive jewellery.
- Exchange money before you leave to avoid being seen exchanging cash at airports or money exchanges on the street.
- Learn a bit about the local culture. Don’t get frustrated with beggars, people trying to ply their wares, or local driving habits. Don’t cause a fuss over a few dollars or a few minutes of time.
- Keep calm. If you feel frustrated, worried or angry, criminals will be able to spot it. They’ll know you’ll be easier to distract when not calm.
Keep an ear to the ground
When a travelling executive becomes aware of a situation — a natural disaster (storms, fires or floods), terrorist attacks, protests, riots — they must know to return to the hotel and listen to the local news, radio or social media. They should listen to news updates about when it’s safe to go out again.
Manage the risks
- Know the number of emergency services of the country you are visiting.
- Check with Smart Traveller for up to date travel risks to your destination.
Good security – personal or business – is about knowing the risks and being able to manage or eliminate them. The same applies to executive travel. Be prepared, plan ahead, use common sense and be aware of your actions and your surroundings.