With threats of terrorism, political chaos, riots, kidnappings, and growing street crime, today’s international business travelers need to be aware of their surroundings and keep their guard up at all times to maintain personal safety. Navigating even the safest and most developed regions of the world, or those perceived to be, has become more challenging than ever. From Europe to Asia and even in our own back yard, events that can easily put an unsuspecting or unprepared business traveler in harm’s way.

As a security officer or manager for your company, you worry about the safety of your business travelers. However, following a few basic tips will help both you and those traveling feel more comfortable and prepared, wherever business may take them.

Plan Ahead

Make sure that your business travelers thoroughly research the city, country, and region to which they are traveling before they get there. Information on travel alerts, terrorism threats, street crime, and other problems to be aware of in all corners of the world can be found on websites such as U.S. Department of State (www.state.gov) and the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk). 

Business travelers should register online with the U.S. Embassy in the country in which they’ll be visiting.  In the event of a national emergency, U.S. officials will be able to locate those who have registered in order to assist with their evacuation from the country. By registering, employees can also receive emergency messages from the U.S. embassy or consulate. Additionally, international business travelers should always leave copies of passports and other travel documents at home with your company’s travel risk management company or a designated colleague so they are easily accessible in case of an emergency.

Travelers should also take steps to protect their personal information before traveling abroad. Personal computers and other electronic devices are of concern in particular, as these devices can be “cloned” by airport security, with information being passed on to another party for re-sale. Important personal information should be removed from laptop computers and other devices before traveling and stored on a USB drive at home.

Blend Into The Surroundings

Business travelers need to be as ‘vanilla’ as possible in order to not stand out. They should become acutely familiar with the culture in the part of the world to which they will be traveling so they can blend in as best as possible and avoid becoming a target for criminals looking to steal from them or even worse - do them harm.

For instance, if most locals eat dinner at 9:30 pm, travelers should follow suit. If travelers will be driving on their own, they should try to stay in busy and populated areas as much as possible; they should never be the only car in a parking lot. They should also refrain from wearing items such as religious symbols, flags, or badges. Varying a daily routine can be helpful by changing up the hours they travel to and from work and other errands. 

Kidnappings Are A Real Threat

Aside from deterring theft, blending in can help prevent business travelers from becoming the target of a kidnapping, a frightening scenario that has been on the rise globally. An estimated 15,000-20,000 kidnappings, detentions, and extortions occur each year all over the world, according to NYA International, a London-based kidnap and extortion response consultancy. In actuality, the number is probably a lot greater, since it is estimated that only 35 percent of all kidnappings are reported to authorities.

Fueling this trend is the global economic crisis that has resulted in more desperation and a rise in crime in general as a means to an end. In Latin America, where there has been a crackdown on drug cartels, many career criminals have turned to organized, violent and often deadly kidnappings as a way to make money.

To minimize the chance of being targeted for kidnapping, travelers should be wary and on alert the second they arrive in an airport in a foreign country.  It’s critical that travelers have the name and photo of the driver who will be picking them up. If they are hiring a driver at the airport, make sure your company has background on that driver and his company before the trip takes place. This is all part of the advance planning for a trip.

Be Careful Around Protests

Public protests have increased in many corners of the world over the past year, and these situations can pose unique safety issues for business travelers. Before leaving for a trip, both you and your travelers should research current news about their destination to understand what controversial events are taking place, such as a political race or impending decision on a high-profile court case. These events are often the impetus for a protest or riot, especially in developing nations undergoing change and reform.

The timing and location of public protests tends to be known in advance.  If travelers do their homework prior to departure, they can avoid the area or neighborhood where the protest is happening. If a protest occurs, travelers should find a safe haven nearby, such as a restaurant or hotel. They should then remain as far away from the main entrance as possible, as this is the area most likely to be hit by bombs, bullets, or other weapons if the situation turns violent.

If possible, travelers should simply remain in their hotel rooms as much as possible during a protest. They should contact their corporate travel and assistance provider as soon as they are aware a situation is underway in order to determine they safest means of removing themselves from the area.  

These tips are a few of the basics that are often included in security awareness training, available from global firms that specialize in medical, security and emergency travel risk management services.  Companies that have employees either traveling internationally on a regular basis, or have expatriates residing in other countries, should make sure they have a comprehensive security and travel risk management program in place.  While working and living abroad has become ‘business as usual’ for many companies, the additional risks involved should never be overlooked.