Last year was a busy one when it came to global events, and the first half of 2014 has been no different. Over the past 18 months there have been significant security issues in Thailand, Libya and South Sudan, as well as bombings at the Westgate Mall in Kenya, during the Boston Marathon, and in Russia as the Winter Games approached. This year has not been quiet, with continued security threats in Central African Republic, Uganda and Ukraine as well as tensions between Japan and China.
Determining the “hot spots” and travel trends for 2014 and beyond requires a reflection on past years. As a benchmark, International SOS and Control Risks analyzed data from countries that were most viewed by clients, which include more than 61 percent of the Fortune Global 500 companies as well as non-government oranizations (NGOs) and universities. Factors for the interest in these countries includes frequency of travel, economic importance of country, travel outside “comfort zone,” security trends and events, weather disruption and mass travel events like the games in Brazil and Russia. The following countries registered as those garnering most interest from security, risk managers and travelers themselves that viewed travel security advice.
Protests by supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi (2012-13), and the ongoing political transition following his ouster, remain a focus. Rising militancy is also a key trend to watch in Egypt.
The large-scale government crackdown against the Islamist political group the Muslim Brotherhood has significantly restricted its ability to sustain large demonstrations, but has driven some members towards more violent tactics. Low-level militant attacks, outside the Sinai Peninsula, began in the weeks following the military’s violent clearing of Muslim Brotherhood protest encampments in August 2013. Early attacks largely occurred along main routes to the Suez Canal city of Ismailia (Ismailia governorate) and within the city itself, focusing on security force checkpoints and patrols.
In recent months, attacks have become more frequent and spread to other areas, including the capital Cairo. As a result of the overall picture, organizations should consider limiting travel to the North Sinai. They should also identify key symbolic dates, including anniversaries, as well as likely targets.
Increase in travel to India continued in 2013, and remains strong this year. While scams and petty crime are the main problem, there has been a worrying increase in sexual assaults.
A series of recent sexual assaults of foreign women highlight the ongoing concerns over the safety of female travelers to India. The capital Delhi and its surrounding satellite cities have seen a particularly acute rise of crime against women, including year-on-year rise in reported rapes, according to official data. Mumbai has not been immune to such incidents and concerns have grown that the city’s comparatively benign travel environment for women is changing.
The most common form of sexual harassment that foreign women experience is unwelcome low-level verbal advances by men, known locally as “Eve teasing.” While this may be annoying, it is unlikely to lead to anything more serious. However, more serious incidents of sexual assault against foreign women do occur.
Rapes against foreigners in more affluent areas of the city or at tourist sites are generally random; opportunistic criminals operate in major tourist sites and sometimes entice foreign female visitors with offers of cheap transport, guided tours, or interpreters. Such scams can entail an increased risk of robbery and sexual assault.
Female travelers should adopt sensible security precautions to mitigate the risk of sexual assault, such as not traveling alone after dark, carrying a mobile telephone programmed with useful contact numbers at all times, and watching their drink in bars and nightclubs to avoid being drugged. Unwanted attention in the streets is best dealt with by avoiding casual eye contact and dressing conservatively – it is advisable to carry a scarf/shawl and wear conservative, loose-fitting clothing that covers the chest, arms to the elbow, and legs.
As the new government pivots away from a drug-war centric agenda to promote economic growth, it still cannot ignore the continuing security problems facing the country. Perhaps the most disquieting development in the area is the rise of “self-defense” paramilitary organizations These groups, originally formed due to the inability of the government to protect organized crime-ridden areas have themselves been linked to crime groups looking for a legitimizing front. At the same time, a recently touted official homicide drop is offset by a parallel increase in kidnappings.
There were 2,663 kidnaps in 2013, according to statistics provided by the NGO Alto al Secuestro. This number clashes with recent government statistics provided by the SNSP (National Public Security System – a database center tied to the security ministry), which places the figure lower, at 1,583 for the same period. That would still be a 32-percent increase from 2012.
It’s important to note that the vast majority of kidnappings are never reported due to low trust in the police forces and fear of reprisal. Moreover, this data does not include express kidnaps, which are a significant risk to any travelers in Mexico. According to a study published by INEGI – the country’s main statistical institute – there were about 105,000 kidnaps in 2012 alone. The survey includes both kidnap-for-ransom and express kidnappings, which gives a better picture of the current state of affairs.
Unlike the shootouts between rival cartels over the last few years, which only pose an indirect risk to business travelers, the growing number of kidnaps and extortions are a growing and direct threat. The casual foreign traveler may be at risk of a short “express” kidnap, though this risk may be greatly reduced by solid pre-travel security awareness training and familiarization with the threats on the ground. Foreign travelers and expats may be targeted for their perceived wealth, and any company operating in Mexico should implement robust security measures on the ground as the threat is likely to remain for the coming years.
Nigeria has been the subject of significant attention due to recent attacks carried out by the Islamist group Boko Haram. While these attacks (especially the most recent abduction of over 260 school girls) have captured international scrutiny the risks we perceive for travelers and expatriates are mostly tied to political developments that may spill over to violence on the ground.
The capital city Abuja is quiet and safe by Nigerian standards, though due to its status as the symbolic seat of power it is expected to see potentially higher levels of unrest in the run-up to the 2015 presidential election. Indeed, the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Goodluck Jonathan is undergoing a major crisis with numerous defections, and Jonathan’s position is becoming increasingly fragile. The emergence of a new opposition party, the APC, which has absorbed many of the defectors, has fueled friction and led to instances of politically motivated violence in several locations.
Broadly speaking, the crisis will need to be monitored closely given the potential for it to trigger unrest which could take ethno-sectarian undertones, given the defectors’ rationale that Jonathan, a Christian, should not bid for another term and should abide by an unwritten rule, allowing the rotation of southerners (Christians mostly) and northerners (Muslims) at the helm of power.
While related violence would be expected to affect primarily the Middle Belt (central) region, where Muslims and Christians coexist, recent incidents in Rivers state (oil-rich south) have highlighted the fact that this political rivalry could impact the security environment nationwide. In this respect, the few gubernatorial elections scheduled for 2014 will serve as a test of Nigerian institutions’ solidity and the country’s democratic standards.
Interest in Brazil is all about the lead-up to the football/soccer games and the subsequent presidential elections in October, meaning that 2014 will be a key year for the country. Many issues are on the table: security, infrastructure and a dispirited economical outlook.
Due to security programs implemented in recent years, crime rates for major cities such as Rio and São Paulo have dropped significantly, though national murder rates have remained nearly stable at 26 per 100,000 inhabitants, which means there has been a migration of violence mostly from the south-eastern localities to north and northeastern areas. Even though crime rates have dropped, they still remain high when compared to regional patterns.
Besides crime, protests should be monitored by companies with travelers and expats to the country, especially ahead of the games. While these subsided in the beginning of the year, they are expected to grow larger and more boisterous ahead of the tournament, and during the matches. While travelers likely will not be targets, protests will certainly affect the logistics of organizations operating in the country and those sending attendees, and they should prepare well in advance.
Best Practices for Mitigation
So, how can enterprise security executives mitigate these risks and threats, especially as the definition of “workplace” continues to evolve? There are best practices and lessons learned.
Travel risk mitigation plans should protect all employees, including travelers, expatriates and emerging market employees, and there should be a focus on Duty of Care. The plans should include clear and comprehensive policies governing business travel as well as the ability to locate and communicate with travelers within minutes of a significant event.
It’s equally important to gain an accurate picture of the threats and hazards in each destination to develop robust travel security and evacuation plans. Increased awareness of endemic threats before departure should be encouraged among travelers. Informing your travelers about risks most likely to affect them is only half the battle. Enterprises must provide the right tools for individuals to feel empowered and react appropriately to diverse security situations. Advanced planning and preparation give organizations the ability to succeed in the global marketplace as well as travelers themselves.
About the Author: Pablo Weisz is Regional Security Manager, Americas for International SOS and Control Risks, with support from International SOS and Control Risks information and analysis teams.