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.

As 2017 draws to a close, we asked four experts what they think were the biggest and the most overlooked travel safety stories of the year.

When considering the two questions, it is very easy to think in terms of headlines. (You will find more on this at the end.) But for us, the biggest travel story is also one that is often overlooked – the number of people travelling without sufficient travel insurance.

Every day, there are reports of something bad happening to someone overseas who does not have travel insurance. Their friends and family often resort to crowdfunding to pay off medical bills of tens of thousands of dollars. There are also cases of people getting injured and facing huge bills because the activity they were doing at the time of the injury is not covered and they did not read the small print. (This is often riding a motorbike or scooter in Southeast Asia.) In the worst situations, friends and family are forced to crowdfund the costs of repatriating a body.

Each of these incidents can be huge and devastating to all those involved, and it has an impact not just on the individual but those around them too.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has recently launched the twitter hashtag #TravelInsured. This documents the potentials risks and costs of not getting travel insurance, and offers advice on where to start looking. We also recently ran a Q+A with Jeff Rutledge, the CEO of AIG Travel, in which he explains what to look for in travel insurance and answered questions on how travel advisories impact on your coverage. If you are unsure of where to start looking, tweet at us – @Safe_Travel_MG – and we will do our best to find you answers!


global-rescue

Dan Richards, CEO and Founder at Global Rescue

Email: press@globalrescue.com
Website: https://www.globalrescue.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GlobalRescue
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/global-rescue-llc

Global Rescue is the world’s leading provider of integrated health, safety and travel risk management services. Since 2004, the firm has pioneered the delivery of medical, rescue and evacuation services to some of the earth’s most difficult places.

What do you think was the biggest/most important travel safety story of 2017, and why?

A major story in 2017 was the impact of environmental disasters on traditional tourist destinations. Wildfires in Spain, Portugal, Croatia, New Zealand and California wine country have underscored the dangers posed by drought and higher temperatures. Volcano activity in Bali threatened tourism. Hurricanes also decimated Caribbean destinations, and travelers may be unwilling to travel to Caribbean islands. This presents an unfortunate conundrum because most island nations will rely on tourism revenue to fund rebuilding efforts.

These disasters not only threatened the lives of those native to the areas where they occurred, but also impacted thousands of travelers, either by causing them physical harm or forcing them to alter their travel plans. Natural disasters in 2017 also highlighted the environmental and infrastructural improvements that need to be made.

What do you think was the most overlooked travel safety story of 2017, and why do you think this deserves more attention?

People tend to react to the spectacular and most frightening events that gather the most media attention. However, there are less spectacular albeit more likely everyday events that interrupt travel and pose dangers to tourists. Motor vehicle incidents are among the most common causes of injuries abroad. Travelers should always use properly vetted transportation and always wear seatbelts, helmets (if riding mopeds/motorcycles) and be well versed in local regulations.

Illness is the most likely event to interrupt a travel. Careful planning can minimize risks by identifying local health risks and getting vaccinated according to CDC / WHO guidelines.  Taking travel precautions such as knowing how to use your own medical insurance abroad, getting supplemental insurance coverage and evacuation overage all help to mitigate the financial impact of illness. While incidents such as these do not garner media attention, they are the most common causes of deaths abroad and therefore travelers should be aware.


Mark Deane, CEO at ETS Risk Management

Website: www.ets-riskmanagement.com
Twitter: @ExploreSecure
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/exploresecure

ETS Risk Management is a boutique security firm led by American and British Intelligence and Special Operations officials, ETS consults with global clients to provide a range of protective solutions include travel risk management, and training via our online platform.

What do you think was the biggest/most important travel safety story of 2017, and why?

From a team perspective, we unanimously agree that since the very end of 2016, that saw the Berlin Christmas market vehicle attack, 2017 has seen a definite and focused swing of terrorist groups working to carry out simple, devastating, soft target attacks. The latest in New York on October 31st that killed eight and injured 12 was preceded by nine other similar vehicle based attacks. This is not to mention the scores more that have been shut down and disrupted by our intelligence and security agencies.

These incidents are an increasingly common terrorist tactic that have resulted in multiple deaths and injuries of innocents. It is a worrying and particularly simple method of causing serious damage, injury and death, with just a driver’s license, rental vehicle and quite often followed with a knife or gun attack.

The increase in ‘lone wolf’, soft-target attacks — particularly attacks where trucks and cars are driven into large, vulnerable crowds — can actually be viewed as a symptom of security forces success and will likely develop and morph into a greater threat in 2018. Whether the soft target is a bike path in New York or a promenade in France. This aspect of our new normal as we enter a new year is extremely worrisome and important for all to consider. It comes with frustrating decentralization, difficult attribution, and challenging questions for all of us.

What do you think was the most overlooked travel safety story of 2017, and why do you think this deserves more attention?

ETS believe the most overlooked travel safety story of 2017 is more a string of stories, than just one. It relates to incidents involving ride share services. Multiple horror stories and incidents have occurred throughout 2017 involving ride share services, including rape, assault, murder and kidnap (both express and actual). There is an acceptance and culture of utilizing ride share services anywhere, let alone in medium to high-risk environments without an acknowledgement of the inherent dangers.

This is unfortunately brought to the forefront this week with the unfortunate story of Rebecca Dykes, the British Embassy worker in Beirut, Lebanon who was murdered by an Uber Driver on her way home from an evening out. There is a very real threat to persons, especially vulnerable, young or targeted when using ride share services and this will only increase moving into 2018. Yet, very few are aware of the inherent risks and the brands provide a false level of security and comfort.


tto1_piko_logo

Travel Operative

Email: editor@traveloperative.com
Website: www.traveloperative.com
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 2017, and why?

We believe that the most important travel safety story of 2017 was the continued influence of ISIS and the terror group’s ability to inspire individuals to carry out indiscriminate attacks across the globe. Despite ISIS’s deterioration as an organisation in the Middle-East, the terror group has recruited sympathisers to execute various high-profile attacks in some of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

The Reina nightclub attack in Istanbul on 1 January 2017 where 39 people were killed illustrated the how one individual possessing a semi-automatic firearm and the element of surprise could overmatch local police and security. On 22 May 2017 in Manchester, a lone bomber relied on timing and a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb to kill 23 innocent concert-goers and inflict horrific injuries to countless bystanders. The attack has had implications for post-event security best practices. Finally, the Barcelona vehicular attack in August 2017 was the culmination of a terrorist cell’s attempt to carry out a multi-axis attack and in the end, quite fortunately was only partially successful.

The three attacks described above may be extremist inspired, however, this is where the commonality ends. Each sought a specific location that could yield a high impact and all methods of attack were inherently different requiring varying degrees of skill and knowledge.  Whilst the response to such attacks has drastically improved, the ability of security agencies to intercept lone attackers before they carry out their senseless acts remains questionable.


Matthew Davies FRGS, Director at Remote Area Risk International

Email: davies@R2Rinternational.com
Website: www.R2Rinternational.com

 

Matthew Davies FRGS is a Travel Risk Management and Remote Area Risk specialist, certified Duty of Care Practitioner – as well as a specialist lawyer within this area. He has over 25 years experience in the field, is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and has led expeditions in and trained teams for various environments including desert and arctic circle expeditions. He is a drafting committee for BS:8848.

What do you think was the biggest/most important travel safety story of 2017, and why?

Risk Assessment, Communications, Preparation.  I have cheated and picked three. One for each wise, biblical (travelling) King at this festive time. Not necessarily the biggest but all relate to the most important issues – as ever – getting the basics right – planning, awareness and pro activity. As for the Three Kings, it’s nothing new.

The first is the tragic case of the British adventurer who was murdered travelling down the Amazon by kayak. In or near Coari (100km away) I will have my boat stolen and I will be killed too. Nice,’ Emma Kelty wrote on social media. The risks for that section of the Amazon were well known and warnings given by locals. I raise no criticism of the victim as all the details are simply not yet known. It is likely there will be a UK inquest. When you are travelling and planning, there are steps you can take. Trust your gut. Undertake dynamic (ongoing) risk assessment. Heed local advice. Don’t be afraid to cancel or change plans. Don’t get caught up in the moment – the easiest thing to do is carry on. That can have serious consequences.

The second travel story is that of the explorer Benedict Allen going “missing” in the Papua New Guinea Jungle. The post return televised interview with his good friend, BBC Security Corespondent, Frank Gardner, was painful viewing – I don’t take satellite phones with me, I don’t take a GPS because for me it is all about disappearing into a place.  Times change. Technology advances, and costs reduce. What is acceptable also changes. If the activity dictates, take a satellite phone! Also take a satellite tracker or emergency beacon – even if it is for the sake of others – in this case, his family, already having gone through the mill on a previous occasion.

Finally, I want to flag the case of the UK citizen travelling to Egypt with a bag containing a medication which is legal in the UK but illegal in Egypt: Tramadol.  Do the research. Know before you go. Even innocent and naive actions can have consequences.


Final word

Terrorism is a serious threat to life and health in many countries. Iraq, Nigeria, Egypt, Turkey, and Somalia are just a few of the countries to have experienced devastating terror attacks. As our commentators noted, lone-wolf attacks have taken many lives across Europe and the US this summer.

There are also the harder to measure political issues that erode human rights and make it harder for business travellers and tourists to visit a place safely.

Within the US, several states banned official visits to other states with a poor record on LGBT rights. President Trump’s travel ban and the racist, Islamophobic, misogynistic rhetoric often spouted by his supporters have made the US a more difficult place for many to navigate.

Political unrest in Kenya, Ethiopia, Honduras and Venezuela has been in the headlines. Mexico has recently reached new levels of violence. Free speech and other human rights are often threatened, as people fight to express their democratic rights.

Then there are those conflicts and situations of unrest that are unlikely to touch most of us, but for aid workers, peacekeepers and journalists pose a very serious threat. The Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and both Sudan and South Sudan continue to be marred by violent clashes. Aid workers and journalists have been targeted in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Across Southeast Asia, leaders and their governments clamp down on free speech, jailing members of the opposition and those that cross them. Right now, two Reuters journalists are awaiting trial in Myanmar for reporting on the horrific atrocities committed against the Rohingya. Cambodia‘s leaders are grappling with the opposition, while President Duterte continues his war on drugs in the Philippines.

But! We firmly believe that the bad guys don’t get to win. 

You should not stop living your life because of the risk of bad things happening. Take advice, read up, be prepared. Know what you are and are not comfortable with. Get great travel insurance, maybe get a travel assistance, make sure you have all the relevant contact information.

If you have a high risk job or you are heading overseas, get some training. Good training goes beyond ticking boxes, and provides you with a set of mental tools that you can use when a difficult situation arises.

 

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