The Risk Intelligence Toolbox: Streamlining the Travel Decision-Making Process

Navigating an increasingly uncertain global risk climate can be challenging—particularly for those responsible for fostering a safe and rewarding environment for students, faculty, and staff abroad. Luckily, intelligence can play a critical role in making sound decisions even during the most complex circumstances—allowing organizations to avoid ‘analysis paralysis’ while identifying the best path forward.

In many ways, integrating intelligence into the travel decision-making process is a lot like using fancy conference room equipment for virtual meetings. Surround sound speakers and voice-activated tracking cameras can make for a great experience, but only with proper preparation and setup. If no one knows how to use all that fancy gear, meeting-goers can be faced with more confusion, delays, and headaches than anything else.

Likewise, the utilization of risk management intelligence takes foresight, knowledge, and proper planning to truly bring value to the travel decision-making process. This article will help higher education risk management professionals streamline the travel-decision-making process by exploring a basic workflow of three framework principles: ASK, GATHER, ANALYZE.  These principles are highly scalable and can be employed before, during, and after any type of crisis abroad.

To help paint a vivid picture of these framework principles, we will reference a recent, real-life crisis situation about Peru:

    • Peruvian President Pedro Castillo was removed from power after an attempted coup mid- December 2022

    • This sparked significant unrest which started in the South, but spread nationwide by December 14

    • Highways were paralyzed by roadblocks, major airports closed, and access between Machu Picchu and Cusco blocked

    • A national state of emergency is declared, with a promise of increasing and likely deadly clashes between protesters and security forces

    • Situation appears to be escalating

Travelers’ Profile: A professor and two graduate research assistants are planning to interview tourist sector workers in the areas around Machu Picchu to understand how tourism is impacting local economies in the area. The plan is to travel through Lima to Cusco, then take the train out to Aguas Calientes and drive around the towns surrounding the historic site; then return by the same route.

Proposed Itinerary:

    • 2/1/23 to 2/14/23 (2 months out)

    • Traveling through Lima (including overnight in Miraflores) and Cusco (including overnight) on the way to areas surrounding Machu Picchu

    • Will be flying, driving, and using rail

Principle 1: ASK
Before the initial research takes place, it’s necessary to know what needs to be asked. Completing this step can go a long way in avoiding ‘analysis paralysis’ and ‘information overload’ amid the decision-making process.

Using the example Peru itinerary, first, list out all the points of interest of the trip. How will the travelers get into country? How will the travelers get around Peru? Where will they be staying? That list should contain at least the following locations:

    • Lima Airport

    • Roads connecting Lima airport to Miraflores neighborhood on water

    • Miraflores neighborhood in Lima

    • Cusco Airport

    • Neighborhood in Cusco

    • Cusco Rail Station

    • Rail Line Cusco > Aguas Calientes

    • Lodging neighborhood in Aguas Calientes

    • Roads and towns surrounding Machu Picchu

Principle 2: GATHER
Next, it’s time to begin gathering sources. At this point, the researcher should scan and review sources with the end goal in mind: determining if travel to Peru is currently feasible. While it’s up to each individual to determine when to call the GATHER process complete, ending it too early runs the risk of falling prey to a specific source bias and/or missing critical information. As such, researchers should do their best to ensure they consider several relevant, credible sources which could include:

    • US/National Government Resources

    • Insurance & Emergency Assistance Providers

    • OSINT/Social Media

    • Third-Party Providers/Peer Entities in Country

    • Personal/Professional Networks

Sources are subjective and there are differing opinions on each, but what’s most important is that the institution deems the source to be credible, actionable, and reliable. Determining if a source meets these qualities can require either reviewing historic information published by that source or comparing current source content to that of other credible sources.

Social media monitoring can also be valuable, but must be viewed carefully and objectively. In the case of the recent Peru protests, for example, many professionals spotted inaccurate information/imagery being used on social media platforms.  This is a valuable lesson regarding the importance of gathering a broad range of sources at this stage and evaluating the credibility of each source before moving on to the next phase.

Principle 3: ANALYZE
At this last and final step, relevant intelligence must be reviewed and analyzed to inform a decision. It can be helpful to organize intelligence by topic, risk, or conclusion to best contextualize the question and potential decision at hand. In the case of the Peru itinerary, the goal is to determine the probability the protests will significantly disrupt the proposed trip. Things to consider include possible adjustments or mitigation techniques, things that might change on the ground which could increase/decrease risk, and the institution’s general risk tolerance.

Even after a decision is made, it’s completely possible that further developments to the destination threat environment could force further adjustments. This means the process of ASK, GATHER, and ANALYZE should be continuous to make sure decision-making is kept up to date with the most recent facts. By following this workflow, even an institution with no prior experience in intelligence gathering can significantly improve their decision-making and better navigate the dynamic world we live in today.


For over 25 years, On Call International has provided fully-customized travel risk management and global assistance services protecting millions of travelers, their families, and their organizations. Contact us today and watch our video to learn more. You can also stay in touch with On Call’s in-house risk management, travel health and security experts by signing up for our quarterly Travel Risk Management (TRM) newsletter.