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Bon Voyage: The Business of Travel Security

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” – John Steinbeck

This sentiment, written in 1962, holds true even today.

Since the 1960s, technology and curiosity have set the travel industry ablaze by enabling us to travel all over the globe. But, as we venture into both known and unknown territories, the risks of travel have also increased exponentially.

These risks are faced by individuals and industries alike, as travel is undertaken for both business and pleasure.

However, travelers can prepare for complications beyond their control.

Through April 21, 2016, there have been an abundance of warnings and alerts from the Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs, to U.S citizens regarding international travel. This list is based on what the organization determines to be potential security threats.

Travel Warnings remain in place until the security situation changes – with some warnings staying in effect for years due to stagnant dangers. Travel Alerts, on the other hand, are short-term risks that are canceled when the security threat is no longer an issue.

Travel Warnings and Alerts

In May 2015, the State Department list of potentially risky places to travel was longer by 21 countries – including Kenya, Honduras, and Lebanon.

While this list is available to the general public and its use is widespread (as is a similar one put out by the British High Commission), some businesses and individual travelers opt to pay for additional independent research.

Thus, travel risks mean opportunity – a chance to capitalize on an industry that’s responding to consumer needs, and the desire to ensure safety and security when away from home.

Expecting the Unexpected

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Marin Buber

Buber was likely referring to the excitement of the unknown, rather than the challenges and obstacles impeding travel to a destination. It’s important, however, to plan for unexpected outcomes while traveling.

Thanks to the media, travelers are becoming more accustomed to contemplating travel risks prior to a journey – trying to be increasingly prepared for things like theft, illness, natural disasters, terrorism, kidnapping, ransom, hijacking, etc.

This growing caution against the unexpected is encouraging travelers to investigate travel security prospects. Yet, hiring a bodyguard or an armored car can be prohibitively expensive – and ostentatious to boot – and are therefore unviable options for the average traveler.

Additionally, traveling with weaponry is prohibited – be it a gun, knife, or even a baton – and so these are off the table as well.

The result is an increasing number of businesses focusing on travel risk prevention.

Survival for Hire

A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.” – Gael Attal

In an effort to keep the travel industry booming, it’s crucial that travelers have options to ensure their safety away from home.

Some of the early entrants into the burgeoning travel security business include AKE International, a London-based security firm that specializes in ensuring the safety of reporters in war zones. In fact, post the November 2015 Paris attacks, requests for its intelligence reports have risen over 20%.

AKE also provides a range of global 24/7 Smartphone satellite tracking options to its clients as part of both wider security and crisis management relationships, as well as a stand-alone service. Users are offered tracking along with support, location monitoring, and caller response.

Granted, most travelers aren’t reporters covering war-torn regions like Yemen or Syria. Nevertheless, as the average vacationer becomes more aware of personal security, the travel security industry must also step up and offer new options to keep people safe in certain riskier locales.

The result has been a number of travel outfits that offer guides with defensive training who can be hired to accompany travelers. In fact, AKE recently announced that due to the popularity and high demand for tourism in certain riskier regions, its “Surviving Hostile Regions” tour is fully booked for May 2016 and the interest in it has been so high that it has added an additional group later in the month.

Mobile Safety

“Leave the Risk, Take the Adventure!”

That’s the slogan used by GeoSure Global, one of the many new mobile apps developed for travel emergencies. GeoSure delivers location-specific assessments by analyzing up-to-date crime and safety-related statistics. This service can be tremendously useful, but it requires that the user be in a region with reliable cellular service or a wireless connection.

FoneTrac, another app provided by IMG GlobalSecur Inc. offers a check-in button so that users can maintain contact with the system, as well as a panic feature in case of emergencies. If a user doesn’t check in to an expected destination by a specific time, the app alerts authorities to a potential missing person situation. And if a situation suddenly becomes suspect, a user can request help at any location.

If anything, the app provides travelers with an element of reassurance, in that it puts the users’ mind at ease knowing their location and safety is being monitored. That’s why the Queen of England and the British Royal Family are IMG clients.

Risk Assessment

In addition to these accessible apps, there are specialty consulting firms.

One such company is Control Risks, an independent, global risk consulting business that focuses on helping organizations manage political and security hazards in complex and hostile environments. Control Risks supports clients by providing strategic travel advice, expert analysis, and in-depth investigations. It’s adept at handling sensitive political issues and providing practical on-the-ground protection and support to all kinds of travelers.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a division of the eponymous magazine, also provides a similar service. It offers economic, political, and socio-demographic forecasting, risk investigation, bespoke modeling, and scenario analysis for travelers employing its service.

Even with these advancements in traveler protection and risk management that go well beyond traditional travel-related insurance packages, the demand for basic insurance continues to encourage M&A activity in the sector.

Recently the ACE Group acquired Chubb, creating the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company under the symbol CB.

“Take Trips, Not Chances!”

Such is the tagline for MedjetAssist, a pure-play insurer offering comprehensive travel protection memberships available for health, safety, and security.

These businesses appear to be good takeover targets for the big insurers that would rather buy than build at this time.

Maintaining Security

For more on the business of travel and security, visit ASIS International – a global community of security practitioners – each of whom plays a part in the protection of assets, whether people, property, or information.

As Freya Stark, the renowned British explorer and travel writer – and one of the first non-Arabians to travel through the southern Arabian Deserts said: “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”

With such an enthusiasm for travel and adventure, Stark would certainly need some travel protection and security in today’s international climate.

Good investing,

Shelley Goldberg

Shelley Goldberg

, Senior Correspondent

View More By Shelley Goldberg