Published: October 14, 2015

In a special Q&A session, Pilgrims Senior Advisor, Sir David Veness, looks at the real and current issues facing business travellers and the strategies that corporations need to implement to protect their staff...

QUESTION: IS THE WORLD BECOMING A MORE DANGEROUS PLACE TO TRAVEL?

In a word, Yes. However, dangers can be prevented or mitigated by prudent planning and integrated staff travel policies and practices. Even in the most challenging locations, essential business travel can be enabled by professional advisers.

There are two strategic indicators of increased danger. Firstly, the persistence and proliferation of conflict linked to the second indicator of unprecedented mass movement of refugees and internally displaced persons fleeing insecurity.

Operational contributors to heightened risks are greater extremist and terrorist activities conducted with greater violence and violent crime frequently facilitated by corruption.

At the tactical tier, unaware and thus unwise corporate decision-making can add to the present dangers. This is known as “Sales before Security”. Too often there is insufficient attention to corporate security, inadequate security resources especially abroad and deficiencies in planning, preparation and deployment. Lack of specific attention to the safety needs of female employees including local nationals is a frequent error.


QUESTION: WHAT ARE THE KEY FEATURES OF THE STRATEGIC, OPERATIONAL AND TACTICAL FACTORS YOU DESCRIBE?

The geographic impact of conflict is becoming cumulative and deeper because causes are unresolved. There are examples across the Middle East, North, East and West Africa and in South Asia. Unresolved conflicts are more prolonged, become more complicated and even more insoluble.

Conflict spurs mass movement of people fleeing danger. The global over-view reports for 2015 note record highs following previous consecutive years of increase. The Chairman of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, warns that this should be a tremendous wake-up call to the World and that the trend of millions of men, women and children becoming trapped in conflict zones must be broken.

At the operational level, there is an expanding methodology from the traditional centre ground of guns and bombs. This is upwards to more extreme attacks and cyber-crime and downwards to volume terrorism where attackers use the means to hand, having been incited or exhorted to act by extreme terrorist groups. For example, there are clear terrorist statements of intended revenge against members of the Coalition engaged in air strikes in either Syria or Iraq.

Tactically, economic conditions have prompted some companies hitherto focused on established markets to deploy staff to more challenging locations sometimes ahead of effective safety and security on the ground. The dangers are not only terrorism, but high rates of violent crime including home invasions, armed carjacking, various forms of kidnap and prevalent street crime.

The basic fact is that the ability of host countries to provide reliable public security is frequently most wanting where it is most needed. Capacity and capability is regularly challenged and is the greatest problem in achieving balanced global safety and security for residents and visitors.


QUESTION: WHAT WOULD AN IDEAL SECURITY STRATEGY LOOK LIKE, PARTICULARLY FOR A BUSINESS DEPLOYING STAFF TO CHALLENGING LOCATIONS MORE REGULARLY?

It is vital to stress the positive message that such a strategy is eminently achievable. There are many existing high grade business examples. The conceptual key is prevention and the structural secret is integration. A weak strategy inclines to action after the event and approaches staff safety and security on a piecemeal basis. An ideal strategy has strands of analysis and assessment, bespoke location awareness and “in-country” support. Analysis and awareness include specific and timely evaluation of intended travel avoiding the tick box trap.
Bespoke awareness includes location briefing, hostile environment awareness training where appropriate and mission focused supplementary briefing as necessary. “In-country” support ranges from meet and greet, hotel security, journey management, guidance and escort to protective security, armoured vehicles where the risk assessment justifies them, and medical evacuation arrangements. It is to be noted that within the ideal strategy there is a compelling theme of corporate self-help with professional support. There are outstanding business travel support networks of which the United States State Department (OSAC) is the global leader, and to which the better security risk management companies are strong contributors and adherents.


QUESTION: WHAT IS THE BUSINESS CASE FOR THE STRATEGY YOU SUGGEST?

Kidnap is at the extreme end of risks facing a traveller, and in places where it is a realistic threat, the risk assessment needs to default to that high level. However, that is not to say that the other risks are thereby irrelevant, or that during any extended business trip a range of lesser or greater threats do not all need to be assessed and a consequent range of softer or harder mitigations put in place.
Prevention preserves life, and the strategy sets out to come as close to preventing loss of life as possible. Such a strategy, with all its essential component parts described in the previous section, is the best means of meeting duty of care. It addresses not only the risks of deferred homicide, the inevitable uncertainties of negotiated release, rescue by force, and the trauma and family distress that can accompany such an event, but also the risks of opportunist crime, road traffic accidents, medical incidents, being caught up in street protests, or losing sensitive data from a laptop. Different cities and areas of countries will present different risks and at different levels, and a good strategy will cause all the relevant risks to be identified accurately and then managed reasonably and appropriately.
Finally, and importantly, it reduces diversion of senior management focus to crisis management, obviates negative publicity, ensures business continuity and is a welcome demonstration of corporate social responsibility. All of this can be readily achieved by effective awareness and proportionate investment of time and effort.


QUESTION: WHY IS THERE SOMETIMES DISAGREEMENT BETWEEN OFFICIAL TRAVEL ADVICE AND LOCAL PERCEPTION?

The FCO/UKTI provides excellent advisory services both centrally and at overseas posts. There is often an inevitable tension between this honest advice and the political view of the host country. Economic factors such as the wish to sustain tourism or other key industries commonly cause local politicians to understate risks to travellers.
This is understandable, but safety and security should be paramount. The simple lesson is to listen to the professional security assessor, who can build in the advice of the FCO as well as of the host country governments as contributing factors, among others, in order to draw realistic conclusions on travel risk and appropriate mitigations.