Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

The last twelve months have been packed with even more travel risk events and incidents than a normal year. We asked a series of experts what they think is the most important travel risk story of 2016. We also asked what they think the most overlooked story is, because sometimes we can find lifesaving insights in the things we may have otherwise missed.

If you would like to add to this piece, please email us: with the subject line ‘Biggest stories of 2016’.

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Griffin Birch

Stuart Birch, Director at Griffin Birch

Twitter: @Griffin_Birch

Griffin Birch helps organisations with their employee safety overseas, focusing on the medical, security, and consular risks for business travel and assignment. In this changing world, Griffin Birch can help your organisation to assess and quantify the risks you and your people face, strategically plan to mitigate them, evaluate how existing services and insurances can be used more effectively, and dovetail this into your existing contractual structure.

What do you think was the biggest/most important travel safety story of 2016, and why?

For me, the events within 2016 that provided the highest impact were the multiple terror attacks in both France and Brussels. Their intensity, ferocity, and simple effectiveness shocked Western Europe out of its complacency, and forced us to look at the world differently, in much the same way that September 11th did within the US.

The historical successes of Europe have led us to a position where we have little understanding of the dangers and conditions faced by much of the world outside of our continent, and these attacks were a comparatively small taste of the way others live on a day-to-day basis. For example, try speaking to a Lebanese person about your shock of the Paris attacks, and then listen to what they face in Lebanon on a weekly basis.

Not that we should embrace these awful events, of course not, but they have forced us to acknowledge that the world has changed, and that we need to adapt to this new challenge. If anything, companies and individuals have not taken the threat seriously enough.

What do you think was the most overlooked travel safety story of 2016, and why do you think this deserves more attention?

If you forgive the UK-centric nature of this response, I feel that the announcement from the British Standards Institute of a new standard for “Travelling for Work” (PAS 3001:2016) is a milestone for the travel risk management industry. It achieves the following:

  1. It provides companies with a ‘template’ for managing their duty of care to travelling and assigned employees, where none existed previously.
  2. It enables those more-enlightened companies to advertise to candidates and prospects that they adhere to industry best practice for such risks.
  3. It formally recognises the differing risk environment for corporate travel and assignment, thereby adding credibility to the need for greater awareness and preparedness.

I recommend any corporate entity download and examine this document. I would like to see global industry as a whole (not simply the UK) adopt such principles for their employee safety overseas. I foresee a time when companies bidding for business have to state their compliance or support of such a standard, in order to be considered within a tender process.

Lara Sierra-Rubia at S-RM

Twitter: @EuropeRisk 

Lara Sierra-Rubia is a Senior Political and Country Risk Analyst at S-RM focussing on Europe and North America. Her main areas of research relate include terrorism, political movements and regional integration. S-RM is a consultancy firm providing risk management, business intelligence and cyber-security services globally.

What do you think was the biggest/most important travel safety story of 2016, and why?

In terms of major travel safety stories in 2016, the year marked a significant increase in Islamist-inspired attacks in Western Europe and North America involving rudimentary weapons and tactics, such as knives and vehicle-rammings. Attacks in both regions throughout the year demonstrated that simple attacks involving limited coordination or planning can result in high casualty numbers. The Nice ramming attack in July speaks to this trend, where 86 people were killed and 434 others were injured at a Bastille Day event. Knife attacks – which were reported in several countries in 2016 including in the UK, US, Germany and France – are also likely to increase.

Islamist militant groups have urged their followers abroad to conduct fairly simple plots. Both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have since separately called on their supporters to carry out vehicle-ramming attacks in Europe and North America. In October 2016, IS published an article in its propaganda magazine, Rumiyah, advising sympathisers on how to execute effective knife attacks. A month later, Abdul Razak Ali Artan conducted a vehicle-ramming and knife attack at Ohio State University in the US, injuring 13 people.

As IS continues to lose ground in Syria and Iraq, the group is more likely to seek to inspire attacks abroad in an effort to maintain its dominance over global terrorism. Whilst intent to carry out more coordinated complex plots will remain a part of IS’ objectives going forward, lone actor attacks involving simple weapons and tactics on soft targets are likely to be a more common feature of Europe and North America’s threat landscape throughout 2017.

Travel Operative

Twitter: @travel_ops

The Travel Operative is a website produced by people who have spent many years working behind the scenes in the security domain. Together with their extensive travel experiences, they provide free detailed analysis of location-specific threats and security insights for travellers. 

What do you think was the biggest/most important travel safety story of 2016, and why?

The story of 2016 was the Nice terrorist attack in July. A lone terrorist deliberately drove a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais, killing 86 people. We were all stunned that a single radicalised individual was able to carry out such an attack with disproportionate effect. The Nice attack had devastating ramifications for the government, security forces, travel industry and the public.

This is the biggest travel story of 2016 due to two factors. Firstly, the psychological impact of the attack was extreme. The use of a 19 tonne cargo truck as a weapon to plough through a crowd makes us all feel vulnerable, both at home and abroad. Second, the nature of the attack demonstrated the tenacity of the terrorist and ‘out of the box’ thinking to generate such a devastating effect. The success of the Nice attack arguably inspired the Berlin truck attack on the Christmas market in December.

The primary lesson for travellers is to expect the unexpected. In 2016, we have seen two significant attacks in cities that are usually considered safe. These terrorists were able to achieve their objectives, evading security agencies by using simple, low-tech and freely available ‘weapons’. The travel industry will be impacted by these threats and governments worldwide will likely review security approaches to public events.

What do you think was the most overlooked travel safety story of 2016, and why do you think this deserves more attention?

Aviation safety was once again overshadowed by terrorism events however a concerning trend was revealed during 2016. A recent study identified endemic issues with fatigue and depression among pilots, particularly with low cost carriers. These fundamental issues were undoubtedly contributing factors to several high profile accidents in 2016.

In March a FlyDubai aircraft crashed near Rostov airport after making two landing attempts. All 62 people on board were killed. The findings of the investigation pointed to a number of factors including inexperience and fatigue. In August an Emirates Boeing 777 suffered catastrophic damage and exploded after a hard landing at Dubai International Airport. Investigations are ongoing however initial data seems to suggest that the crash was due to pilot error. In November, a LaMia Airlines flight carrying the Chapecoense football team crashed near Medellin, Colombia killing 71 passengers. Preliminary investigations indicate that the aircraft ran out of fuel.

The proliferation of low cost air travel has increased the physical (and mental) demands placed on commercial airline pilots. We believe this is a cause for concern given the importance of aviation safety to the industry as a whole.


Rogan Dwyer at Global Asset Protection, Inc.

Email address:
Website: /
Twitter: @gapsecure

We consult and advise on the Duty of Care employers have for their employees, clients and stakeholders, and provide insurance and service solutions to protect assets overseas, both human and collateral. A global intelligence network and long standing contacts in the insurance and security industries are crucial to our continuing relevance and capability in this field.

What do you think was the biggest/most important travel safety story of 2016, and why?

The case of the British woman who was allegedly raped by two British men in Dubai made headlines as much for its lurid content as for its implications and reminders that Dubai is NOT the UK and to expect a common standard of justice is folly. That she was arrested for having extramarital sex should come as no surprise as there have been plenty of prior examples. Many people assume that foreign legal practice is based upon the same foundations as Western law. This is not the case, particularly with regards to Sharia Law which is applied to differing degrees throughout the Middle East.

What do you think was the most overlooked travel safety story of 2016, and why do you think this deserves more attention?

The same story. The amount of attention paid to a news story depends largely upon where you hail from but the lessons to be learned are universal. Everybody travelling abroad should have emergency procedures established covering all things from medical issues to lost documents, crime protocols to catastrophe evacuation.

The single biggest message is that your government is NOT guaranteed or even obliged to ride to your rescue. The Consulate or equivalent will no doubt do their best to assist but have diplomatic considerations, limitations on resources and other priorities to consider. The STEP program, as run by the US State Department, is a great model all countries should follow as it enables US citizens to register on a central database that identifies which citizens are in a given country at any given time, facilitating communications in the event of problems, natural catastrophes, war etc. etc.

Travelers can and should invest in travel support as well. A simple comparison is this: most people have some sort of roadside assistance program to turn to in the event of a car breakdown. Just call the number, give them your membership number and let them take it from there. The same service exists for travelers and we don’t believe anybody should leave home without it.


Saul at beTravelwise

Twitter: @betravelwise

beTravelwise provides training and education to promote safe travel. It has training courses designed to support organisations in their travel risk management programmes. A fully blended approach allows the learner to receive engaging training appropriate to the health, security and travel risks they may face.

What do you think was the biggest/most important travel safety story of 2016, and why?

Qatar convicts Dutch woman who reported her own rape. This story highlights how we get caught up in a bubble of Western values that doesn’t necessarily translate to the rest of the world.  There can be huge legal, cultural and social attitude differences throughout the world and Western travellers often are completely ignorant of these.

In the Gulf this can be somewhat forgiven as the countries spend huge amounts promoting themselves in a very Western way to attract tourists, but this hides the underlying Sharia based legal system that tourists (and business travellers) often fall foul of.  More recently a British women suffered a similar fate when reporting a gang rape in Dubai to the police.  Luckily the case was dismissed (for being consensual sex), she was released and allowed to travel home; however the underlying charge of having ‘extra-marital sex’ was still applicable.

Even if only stopping overnight in a new country, research the background and culture; especially in relation to any activities you are going to be doing there.  If you are even remotely concerned about the legal system you should contact your embassy in the first instance before approaching the police.

[Editor’s note: Make sure you have relevant contact information stored somewhere accessible before you fly.]

What do you think was the most overlooked travel safety story of 2016, and why do you think this deserves more attention?

Airbnb refuse liability for balcony collapse. I think this says everything that any corporate travel manager needs to know about using Airbnb for business travellers.  So long as their system bases so much on trust I don’t see how it can satisfy even the most rudimentary risk assessment.

Lauren McIntosh at Global Warning System

Twitter: @safeture

GWS provides travel security alerts and risk information on a global scale. Our app, Safeture, and travel management platform sends alerts in real-time for natural disasters, accidents, outbreaks of disease, political unrest, crime or economic instability and travel delays.

What do you think was the biggest/most important travel safety story of 2016, and why?

For 2016 the most important travel story I believe is the series of events in Turkey. These events illustrated the importance of information networks for travelers – when the media shutdown occurred many travelers were left stranded in a high-risk area.

Turkey is often known as the gateway connecting East and West, and is a well-established meeting point for travelers. After a decade of growth, the tourism sector is beginning to fall, due to increasing security threats.

The impact from the failed coup d’état in Turkey 2016, was felt in Turkey and beyond. Many travelers were left stranded without viable information, a terrifying prospect for those left in an unfamiliar area. The advice provided by different government authorities around the world is to monitor local media in Turkey. This is usually good advice for travelers; however, what should travelers do when the media environment is considered not free?

According to Freedom House, an independent media watchdog organization, Turkey’s media landscape is facing a number of issues. Ranging from media ownership conflicts, harassment of journalists, and journalists consistently self-censoring their own material. Travelers to Turkey often experience problems with accessing social media, as these platforms are repeatedly blocked.

During the failed coup d’état on July 15th 2016,
local media was shutdown, leaving many travelers stranded. This was also during a time when there was a high military presence, including: tanks, military patrols and gun fire. The situation was unsafe, and travelers needed to have access to viable information in that moment.

In the aftermath of the failed coup d’état, media outlets were targeted by the government. Many journalists and editors were detained for reporting on the situation. Media blackouts were ordered by the government in the wake of the crisis, with more than 100 media outlets shut down.

Staying informed while traveling abroad is vital for traveling safe. In the information age, it can be too easy to rely on traditional forms of media, and to forget about the importance of diversifying information sources. This is where travel security apps can improve personal security when abroad.

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