Having a good understanding of travel security is essential for ensuring a successful business trip. Without this knowledge, you make yourself vulnerable to opportunists and professional criminals every time you travel. However, by following these 23 travel security tips you will greatly reduce the odds of becoming a victim of targeted crime on your next overseas business trip.
With few exceptions, the sole aim of most criminal organisations is to extort money and monopolise the kidnapping of prominent foreign businessmen and women in their territory. Experienced gangs target wealthy locals and business travelers visiting the country, with the latter being the most vulnerable to kidnap as they present themselves as an easier or ‘soft target’ with less ‘in country’ knowledge, backup or support. In Latin America, even the drug cartels are turning to kidnapping as an easier way of supplementing their income, which has been hit by more stringent US controls on border security trafficking.
Kidnapping tends to flourish in the absence of an effective state security infrastructure and penal system. For example, the states inability to curb kidnapping in Mexico results from extensive corruption within the police force whose officers openly collude with the many gangs, safe in the knowledge of the impunity afforded to them by the small number of successful prosecutions. Mexico is not alone in suffering the attention of organised kidnapping gangs and is not even the number one hotspot for such crimes, where Pakistan rates as the top offender of the following list:
The deep drivers of any financial criminal act – corruption and social deprivation –have no swift solutions and countries such as those named above where the problem is endemic will see little change in the years to come and will continue to experience high levels of crime for the foreseeable future. Due to the rapid expansion of foreign corporations into these places, it is expected that there will be an increasing stream of executives traveling there, with little to no knowledge of travel security and inadvertently presenting themselves as soft targets for criminal elements.
How can you improve your travel security should your business take you to these places?
By adhering to the following travel security tips you can aid your safety whilst away on that all-important business trip. Simply by being cautious, vigilant and aware of your surroundings will greatly improve your chances of a successful trip. However, by taking the time to do a little research before departing, such as briefing yourself on any criminal activity happening in the city that you are to visit and reading up on the methodologies of any organised criminal elements that may operate in that area will put you on the front foot from the off. For instance are you aware that the gangs operating in Mexico have infiltrated the government agencies so well that they can ‘target’ first and business class travelers (their potential targets) getting off the plane at the airport to which you are disembarking? How do you combat this? Quite easily as it happens.
Travel Security Tip 1
First of all, prior to your business trip, log onto the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website and research the area/country you plan to visit. The FCO website gives you vital information regarding the political climate, criminal stats, embassy details, areas to avoid, medical facilities, etc:
Travel Security Tip 2
Everyone knows that first and business class passengers disembark first once a plane has landed so simply remain in your seat and get off the plane last with all the economy passengers; don’t travel in your expensive suit, dress down and BLEND IN, avoid using any ‘express’ business class queues once you’ve landed. These simple steps will allow you to exit the airport unnoticed and proceed to your hotel without a ‘tail’. This is often the first stage used by gangs to identify victims and follow them to their hotels for further surveillance.
Travel Security Tip 3
When reserving a hotel make sure it has security personnel 24 hours a day and use a hotel away from government buildings, embassies, major religious centers, and icons. Also, ensure that the hotel has a tested evacuation and emergency response plan. If you are staying in a city with a high crime rate such as Rio de Janeiro or Mexico City, only use hotels with electronic key card access and elevator key cards.
People often consider their hotel room to be a safe place, however, organised criminal elements will have hotel staff on their ‘payroll’ acting as their eyes and ears identifying potential targets for robbery or kidnapping.
Travel Security Tip 4
If you feel particularly vulnerable, check into a room with one member of the reception staff and then come back an hour later when that person is not around and ‘complain’ about your room to another receptionist and ask him or her to assign you another room. By doing this any details that may have been passed on are of no use to the criminal. (Travel Security Tip 5) When checking into the hotel and filling out the reservation form put the minimum of personal details on the form or even put down false information. This information is, after all, just for the hotel’s records! I have done this many times before whilst traveling; the reality is, that other than passport control agents, no-one you meet during your trip needs to know these details.
Travel Security Tip 5
Avoid booking rooms facing busy streets or at ground level with windows. Always try and reserve a room between the 3rd and 7th floor whilst also avoiding any directly above the lobby. Ensure the room has access to fire ladders and is away from the stairwells and elevators.
Travel Security Tip 6
Keep your room door locked and bolted while you are in the room. If you have a room at a bed and breakfast, make sure that you use the door lock to secure your room at all times. If the security lock in your room locks from the inside with a key, keep your key in the lock so that you can open the door in case of an emergency. Doing so makes it easy to find the key and in case of intrusion stops anyone putting anything in the lock on the other side of the door.
Travel Security Tip 7
You should also keep a plastic or wooden door wedge permanently packed away in your suitcase to wedge under your door from the inside of your hotel room. This simple measure will prevent anybody with a spare key/fob from gaining entry to your room without making an awful racket and using a real force of effort.
Travel Security Tip 8
If you are holding meetings in your hotel let the reception know who and how many people you are expecting to attend the meeting and tell them that you will meet the people in the foyer and not your room. The inconvenience of doing so is far exceeded by the decrease in exposure to potentially dangerous situations.
Travel Security Tip 9
When using the hotel elevators, if any person makes you feel uncomfortable pretend you have forgotten something, turn around and walk away before then, taking another elevator to the floor below yours. You can then exit the elevator and use the stairwell to gain entry to your floor. It will give you the advantage over any attacker as they will be expecting you to exit from the elevator and will most probably wait for you at the elevator door or hide in the hotel stairwell. If they are hiding in the stairwell you will see them beforehand and can then make your way back down to reception and inform the hotel security.
Travel Security Tip 10
In the case of an extreme emergency or incident outside of your hotel, avoid flocking to the windows. Many victims of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai rushed to the windows to see what was going on and were injured or killed in the shooting. Instead, double lock your door and barricade it with heavy furniture, drag the mattress to the middle of the room and get under it. DO NOT broadcast your whereabouts, as again in Mumbai many hotel guests were tracked to their hiding place in the hotel basement by the terrorists, simply because they were heard screaming into their mobile phones to family members or the police.
Travel Security Tip 11
Finally, make sure you study the instructions and hotel map in your room, as any intelligence and knowledge of the hotel layout that you possess will help you exit the hotel rapidly should you need to in case of fire and the possible need for evacuation. When exiting the hotel keep your room key on you, this will mean that any ‘inside’ man can’t inform his colleagues as to your whereabouts.
Remember the six ‘P’s:- “Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”.
Security Outside the Hotel
Travel Security Tip 12
Prior to making any overseas business trip, inform your office of any meetings that you will be attending. Be sure to tell them the timings and the locations of the meetings, along with the names and contact details of all attendees. If you feel that you can trust the hotel staff at your destination then it is also advisable to inform them as well. This is only advisable in certain ‘low-threat’ countries. Inform your office of how long you think the meeting will be and call them prior to going into the meeting and then again when you leave to return to your hotel.
Travel Security Tip 13
If you need to make travel arrangements to get to your meeting then ensure that you only use registered licensed taxis with official markings ensuring that the driver has their official identification or use an authorised chauffeur from the hotel. Do not share a taxi unless you are familiar with the other passengers; remember your main duty is to protect yourself. If your refusal to join a cab hurts someone’s feeling, tough!
Travel Security Tip 14
If you have to walk anywhere, be aware of your surroundings. If the immediate environment does not “feel” right, find a place that does. Pay attention to your instinct or ‘sixth sense’, as the human brain is rarely wrong when sensing danger.
Travel Security Tip 15
The term “questionable neighbourhood” is always a valued observation and it is a fair assumption that you will know when you have turned the corner into a neighborhood to avoid. It is always better to backtrack than proceed through the neighbourhood in your attempt to return to a safe area. Don’t use shortcuts, narrow alleys or poorly lit streets, as doing so invites danger and more often than not will just get you lost quicker! Use the main arterial roads with the most commuter traffic.
Travel Security Tip 16
Whilst walking, look beyond the people immediately surrounding you; observe people in the second and third tier away from you, make use of shop windows to help you check who’s behind you or who may be following you on the other side of the street. From time to time randomly cross the street and see if anyone follows you and if you constantly see the same face in the background, be cautious and seek assistance or take a licensed taxi to your destination. Be especially careful about traveling after dinner or in the late evening hours when predators are more likely to be lurking with ill intent!
For the executive traveler driving in foreign countries, my advice is to drive defensively. My recommendations cover safety issues related to driving and related to cars and their contents.
Travel Security Tip 17
When you rent a car abroad, try to reserve one that does not stand out and is unlikely to attract attention. Standard saloon models in none descript colours such as grey, silver, and blue are best. Remember the key here is to blend in and not attract attention. If however, the car is obviously marked as a rental car (for example, it is plastered with the agency’s logo or name) ask if any marks identifying the car as a rental can be removed. If not, ask if they have another vehicle.
Travel Security Tip 18
If possible, rent a car with central power door locks and power windows so that the driver can control access to the car at all times. Make sure the vehicle has functioning air conditioning which will mean that you can keep the windows closed and avoid any ‘snatch and grab’ thieves.
Travel Security Tip 19
Do not leave your valuables unattended in the car at any time. If you must leave the car while it contains your valuables, place them in the boot/trunk and out of sight, making sure they are placed in the boot/trunk ‘before’ you park! Pulling into a parking lot and then stashing your treasures only serves to inform observant thieves that you have something worth stealing.
Travel Security Tip 20
If you are on your way to that all-important meeting don’t leave your wallet or travel documents in a jacket hanging from a coat hook or on the back of your car seat. It is very easy for someone to reach in and remove your jacket at traffic lights or when static in traffic. Put all briefcases, purses, and other items (cameras, phones, etc.) on the floor and out of sight. Smash and grab thieves have been known to break car windows on the fly and grab purses resting on women’s laps. Avoid parking your car on the street overnight and if your hotel does not have a parking garage or other secure parking, select a well-lit area as near to the hotel entrance as possible.
Travel Security Tip 21
‘Most importantly’, if in the unlikely event you are accosted resist the urge to fight back. Give them what they want. Losing your belongings is a monetary loss and an inconvenience at worst but not a tragedy. They are replaceable, you are not! It is also a good idea to keep a couple of old credit cards and a small amount of cash in a separate wallet which you can hand over to the attacker who is not going to take the time to check the expiry dates!
Travel Security Tip 22
However, where you feel that your life may well be in imminent danger if you do not fight back, as in the case of ‘kidnap on the streets of London‘ make sure you aim to immobilise your assailant as quickly (and as painfully) as possible to make good your escape whilst screaming at the top of your voice. Go for the throat with a strike using the side of your hand, the eyes with a clawed hand to blind them, or the groin to immobilise them temporarily to make good your escape. Very simple yet effective everyday ‘legal’ defensive weapons that you can carry are;
- Newspaper – Rolled tightly up it is very effective when jabbed in an attackers face, throat, solar plexus, or groin.
- Umbrella – The design with a metal spike can be a lethal protective weapon. Do not swing at your attacker with it, jab with it!
- Handkerchief and loose change – Everyone carries both of these items, yet few realise what a lethal combination they are. A few coins wrapped tightly in a handkerchief make a formidable defensive weapon!
Travel Security Tip 23
Finally, should you still be unlucky enough to become a victim of criminal activity or attack on your travels, you must summon up all of your courage and nous in order to stop yourself from panicking. Remain as calm as possible, focusing solely on the situation at hand and give the criminal what he wants whilst taking in as much information of both the criminal and the surrounding areas as possible. Panicking will only add to the criminal’s desperation and could scare him into a violent attack.
Director of Operations
Perseus Risk Management Ltd