Reevaluating Your Organization’s Travel Security Strategy for 2017

In the rapidly evolving and fluctuating world of global travel, organizational policies must constantly be updated in order to remain relevant and effective. As the New Year begins, we encourage risk managers and administrators to take this opportunity to reevaluate their organization’s travel security plans for 2017. Need help getting started? Here are a few fundamental topics to consider:

Risks analyze, low risk
  1. Consider security strategies for attacks on soft targets.

If your organization has not yet integrated the threat of attacks on soft targets (e.g. festivals, transportation hubs, restaurants, large public gatherings) into your travel risk management strategy, we strongly encourage you to do so in 2017. Throughout 2016, the vulnerabilities of soft targets were exploited during numerous calamities including the Brussels attacks, the Nice truck attack, the Berlin truck attack, the Normandy church attack, and the Orlando nightclub shooting. Unfortunately, this trend in terrorist behavior could continue as ISIS is expected to lose ground in Syria and Iraq and, in turn, encourage decentralized attacks on soft targets. Note: the State Department’s Europe Travel Alert released on November 21, 2016, continues to emphasize the terrorist attacks throughout Europe.

Due to this ongoing threat, travel risk managers should incorporate training regarding the vulnerability of soft targets into their organizational risk management strategies. Simply touching on some key points can go a long way towards increasing your employees’ situational awareness and helping to meet a company’s duty of care requirements. For example, instruct travelers to be vigilant, provide information on your organization’s incident communication plan, and reemphasize basic strategies like run, hide, or fight that travelers can utilize if involved in an incident. Third-party providers like On Call can help convey these concepts to travelers and further work to ensure that risk tolerance is conveyed in an organization’s overall risk management strategy.

  1. Reevaluate high-risk locations and countries where the risk profile can fluctuate rapidly.

It is important that organizations don’t overlook the ever evolving risk landscape across the globe. Due to both internal and external factors (e.g. politics, regional conflicts, natural disasters, disease outbreaks and population trends), the security environment in a country can quickly deteriorate. As a country’s security environment devolves it becomes even more imperative for organizations to ensure they have a thorough travel risk management strategy in place for travelers headed to these locations.

A fitting example here is the security situation in Turkey, which significantly devolved throughout 2016. Major events in Turkey included attacks on police officers, an attempted coup, the Ataturk Airport attack, the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, and most recently the Istanbul nightclub attack. On Call International’s Middle East and Northern Africa specialist, Garrett Khoury, describes how the landscape in Turkey has changed: “Turkey is a notable example of the ever-evolving risk environment. As recently as 2014, Turkey was considered a relatively low risk travel destination, but due to turbulent domestic politics and spillover from regional conflicts, the country is now considered a high risk area.” In fact, Turkey is an example of a high-risk destination where risk managers may want to consider establishing “reverse tripwires” (i.e. recognizable signs that the country is stabilizing and an organization now feels comfortable sending travelers to the area once again).

  1. Understand and prepare for the continued pressure the European Union (EU) will be under.

The EU has been under increased strain over the past few years as the politico-economic alliance has attempted to address difficult issues like economic crisis, an influx in the refugee population, and an increased threat of terrorism. The growing concern over the EU’s ability to handle these issues was epitomized when the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016. And don’t expect the Brexit topic to go away in 2017, as Prime Minister Theresa May appears eager to negotiate the terms of the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU sooner rather than later.

Additionally, France and Germany are scheduled to hold crucial domestic elections in 2017, with the far-right parties expected to challenge for power. In France, current President Francois Hollande has declared that he will not run for a second term (as he faces dismal approval ratings hovering around 4 percent), while Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, is gaining increasing support. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is under increased pressure regarding immigration policy, which has the potential to derail her reelection bid in 2017.

Meanwhile in Italy, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned in December 2016 after failing to pass constitutional reforms, leading to speculation that unscheduled elections may be called for in 2017. Furthermore, Italy is facing serious economic instability that is fueling whispers that the country may ditch the euro to return to the lira.

The outcomes of each of these geo-political situations could have significant travel ramifications on any organization that frequents the EU. As decisions are made, protests will likely emerge, visa laws may be affected, and union strikes could gain support.

  1. Think about organizational policies toward travel to Cuba as relations with the country begin to normalize.

In 2016, we saw U.S.-Cuba relations begin to take steps towards normalization. As such, travel risk managers should consider their organizational posture regarding travel to Cuba in 2017 and beyond. At present, U.S. citizens are only allowed to travel to Cuba if the purpose of the trip falls within these 12 designated categories. However, these categories allow room for academic, nonprofit, and business related travel.

From a security perspective, Cuba can be a relatively low risk country to visit as long as travelers are advised of the steps to take to ensure they respect Cuban culture. Also note that although relations are normalizing and travel from the U.S. to Cuba is becoming more frequent, the method to secure a visa and the right to travel can still be a lengthy process.

  1. Adapt travel risk management strategies in unison with advancing technologies.

Cyber-attacks and identity fraud will remain key issues that risk managers cannot afford to ignore. More countries are slowly moving away from hard currency and travelers are becoming less inclined to carry cash, resulting in less opportunity for petty cash to be stolen but greater opportunity for credit card fraud and ATM skimming. Additionally, highly exposed public WIFI hotspots are becoming more accessible by the day, and the rise in sharing economy apps combined with mobile phone robbery leaves travelers highly vulnerable to identify theft. Furthermore, developments in technology are allowing corporate and state-run espionage to be taken to new heights.

Risk managers should take a serious look at their travel strategy as it pertains to technology and determine if it is satisfactory in consideration to the ever evolving modern world. A well thought out plan will have policies in place to protect both proprietary company material and employees’ personally identifiable information (PII).

For more information about travel security and holistic travel risk management, contact us today.