Whilst the concept of a Travel Risk Assessment is applicable to many businesses, it may initially seem somewhat distanced from the private travel needs of High Net Worth Families. There are actually an alarming number of similarities. We were recently invited to contribute to an article outlining the dangers of generic TRAs within the oil and gas sector; specifically our focus was to highlight the importance of having a bespoke strategy in place particular to a client, rather than a copy and paste effort from a previous project. Unfortunately, there are a plethora of companies in existence which do exactly that.
Travel risk assessments analyse the threats associated with travel to certain locations, domestic or international, at a given point in time and the potential sources of risk both in transit and also upon arrival at the destination. Factors to consider include political stability, socio-economic conflict and criminal activity. A generic approach to managing these risks, in our opinion, simply will not suffice.
Thanks to advance in technology and freedom of information, we are ever more connected with friends, work acquaintances and family members across the globe; we can communicate instantaneously by mobile device, share media by the internet and can arrive at a remote destination anywhere in the world within 24 hours by air. As businesses grow on a global scale, so do the requirements of those individuals who work for, and equally manage such enterprises. The concept of an ‘International Commuter’ is now far more familiar, especially for senior and executive management.
That said, 2015 has not been a good year for the tourism industry, with some of the largest travel operators admitting year end profits will be lower than initially expected. The slowed economy since 2008 has played a part but more recently, a series of incidents has directly affected travellers across the globe. The risk of attack, kidnap, injury or incarceration is now a real consideration for individuals travelling overseas to more countries than we would initially expect. Whilst there are some parts of the globe which have always been viewed with caution, the media explosion and spread of secular terrorist and organised crime groups means that previously frequented locations have evolved into some of the most dangerous. But how is this relevant to the UHNW and HNW sectors specifically?
he Terrorist Threat
The original definition of ‘terrorism’ reads,
“The use of violence (terrorist acts) to engender an atmosphere of fear in a civilian population for the purpose of furthering political, religious or ideological goals.”
The key in this definition is the inclusion of the target for such organisations – civilian population. Of particular interest are those individuals whose involvement in an incident can be sensationalised by the media, used in propaganda and as recruitment material for those conducting attacks. We have seen first-hand in past weeks how the so called ‘Islamic State’ will abduct and publicly execute key figures to make a political point. Furthermore, these groups are not as abstract in their operations as we may think. Western media outlets are very good at leading us to believe that the sporadic and unpredictable nature of events are due to poor management, organisation and planning. The truth could actually be more terrifying; we have seen first-hand how sophisticated and pre-meditated the majority of such extremist attacks are.
The Criminal Threat
On an organised crime level we must not forget that some of these incidents are opportunistic. A thief, kidnapper or political activist may identify an un-guarded moment or lapse in concentration and exploit it instantaneously. When travelling, we are typically in unfamiliar territory, surrounded by strangers and are at our most vulnerable; we become the very definition of a criminal target, or ‘mark’. We must remain vigilant, observant of surroundings and alert to changes in atmospherics, routine and the actions of those around us. This is easier said than done, especially when travelling with children which present their own element of unpredictability. The task of managing one’s own safety proactively and reactively soon becomes a full time role, and not something many of us wish to undertake during, for example, a family vacation.
“It will never happen to me”
A common presumption is that we will never personally suffer the misfortune we see unfolding for others. The reality is that our lives, and those of our families, are potentially in danger. We don’t need to travel overseas or to high risk environments to find hostility. Terrorist and criminal organisations are effective because they can spread through a population like a virus, even more so today with the use of social media as a tool and these risks are not always publicized in an insightful manner. Political candidates, influential figures and high net worth individuals make prize targets, which is why there is generally such heavy security presence for these persons when attending public events. Unfortunately, the same care and attention cannot always be said for personal travel arrangements which creates a prime opportunity for individuals with malicious intent to strike. We may not like to admit it, but the chances are that many incidents we hear about are pre-planned attacks with a very specific outcome. So if our attackers are going through military style planning and tactics, the best way to counter them is to have a proactive defensive strategy in place ourselves.
What is TRM?
Travel Risk Management (TRM) is employed by governments, armed forces across the world, corporate businesses and aid organisations. Many business people will have used a managed travel service, likely without even knowing it, when booking accommodation or flights through a centralised corporate system. Pre-vetted hotels and agency booked transfers are common place to the business traveller and ensure that reputable locations are used for employees, and provide an element of accountability for individuals who may be transiting through more complex or hostile countries or high risk cities. The general concept is that a journey from A to B is broken down into stages, with different courses of action planned and tested for potential sources of threat. Additional measures such as contingency and fall back routes, emergency ‘rendezvous’ points and even decoys are also agreed beforehand to alleviate, where possible, unforeseen circumstances. Other considerations such as personnel tracking, now generally facilitated through mobile phone GPS signal and installed software, enables a central operations team to monitor a journey in real time, providing oversight of key individuals at every stage of the trip. In the event of kidnap, separation or other incident, the chances of successful recovery reduce rapidly after an initial 24 hour window. Having a travel management plan, consultants on the ground and a central control room could be the difference between a response time of eight hours from local law enforcement and one minute from an onsite team.
Give me an example
A recent account from a global CEO, who employed specific travel risk management from a partner organisation, documented the safe travel of his daughter on vacation with her friends across Europe. Although not traditionally a region of high risk for International travellers, with the current political climate, he felt that some safety measures should be in place should the worst happen. Having covert protection in the form of a CPO (Close Protection Operative) and location updates from her mobile phone, there was 24/7, non-intrusive coverage for the duration of her trip. Daily threat briefs were provided to the overseas party and key incidents or areas to avoid were highlighted where necessary. Thankfully, no intervention was required but the Chief Executive was happy that measures were in place none the less. When we talk about ‘assets’ it is easy to forget that in the eyes of someone wishing to inflict damage on our brand, reputation or person, family and relatives are our most valuable assets. That is not to say that our close family members should be treated as commodities, more that protection of those we hold most dear should be a very real consideration for anyone seen as a target due to political status, wealth, reputation or recognition. The HNW sector are likely viewed by criminal professionals as a fast track way to achieving an aim, whether that be financial or ideological, due to the perceived resources available, and the potential publicity to be gained through successfully conducting an attack. Couple this with the increase in kidnap attempts in the past year, and the threat suddenly becomes somewhat more severe.
Who to ask?
There are a number of organisations who offer the services mentioned in this article, and we highly recommend that you consult with a specialist prior to embarking on any travel, period. Many Family Offices have an in-house Security Manager, which is absolutely necessary and specialist providers work with such individuals and by no means replace them. Sometimes an external viewpoint and independent assessment can be the most valuable use of time and resources. A clear and decisive action taken now could return the investment of a saved life in the future.