Protecting female travellers: Good business sense

She landed in the foreign country, thrilled about her first trip abroad but tired after the long flight in Economy. The local time was 02h00 and the night’s humidity felt like a warm wet blanket as she queued in the ramshackle room to have her passport and completed Immigration forms  scrutinized by a Customs official. 

She knew nothing about the country she was visiting and had not been briefed about any dangers. She was an auditor who was staying for a week. So, she did not notice the Customs official sending a text message from his mobile nor saw a man move away from his desk and into Baggage Reclaim. She did not see the same man in the Arrivals Hall talking to another man who entered her name in capital letters on an iPad and added  a hotel logo.

As she entered the Arrivals Hall, her tiredness and anxieties about transport gave way to relief as she saw that her hotel had sent a driver. Indicating that she was, indeed, the named passenger on the iPad he was holding, the man relieved her of her carry-on laptop bag and wheeled pink suitcase. She followed him outside the terminus building to a car idling on the approach road.Wordlessly, he opened the rear passenger door and indicated that she get inside. He placed her luggage in the boot.

Another man was in the driver’s seat, smoking a cigarette and listening to the car radio. Her escort said something to this driver who nodded, engaged gears and drove south towards the city.

She marveled at the sights of packed bars, bustling crowds, loud music, bright lights, popular street vendors and kerbside eateries, all fuelling a vibrant but informal economy. She was tired but felt giddy with a buzz of excitement. She remembered her father’s advice to keep an open mind when travelling. 

She did not notice that the car was no longer travelling along the highway, that the street lights were not so bright or that the crowds had thinned out. She did not react when the driver stopped the vehicle and opened the passenger door, nor did she do anything but comply when he directed her to the front door of a large building. Remembering her mother’s words that  you should embrace the unexpected when travelling, she entered the house in front of her. It was 04h10 local time  and she was still excited. 

Her bruised and battered body was found on a patch of wasteland at 10h23 local time. Her carry-on laptop bag was not to be seen but the contents of  her wheeled pink suitcase were already being traded in the local market located two hundred metres from her corpse. 

A recent GBTA survey, conducted with AIG, highlighted the top three  concerns expressed by female travellers: 80% stated that safety concerns impacted on  their work  productivity; 71% believed that they faced greater risks when travelling than their male colleagues; and 63% reckoned that their companies could do more to protect their female travellers. 

Given that, globally, 64% of all travellers are female and that 80% of all travel decisions are made by women, companies must  do more to protect their female travellers. 

But, is a half day seminar on travel safety enough? Does listening to a presenter repeat the same commonsense do’s and dont’s actually prevent female passengers from being assaulted? How much practical experience is provided to female travellers so that they know what to do, where, when and why? 

After earning my CPP designation in Security Management, for more than a decade our firm has specialized in Travel Risk Management consultancy and Hostile Environment Awareness Training ( H. E. A.T.) for corporate travellers. Specifically, we have focused on addressing the concerns of female travellers which include their general safety; the threat of sexual harassment and assault ( with the concomitant risks of unwanted pregnancy and disease); and travelling to dangerous cities. 

Yet, the likelihood of these very real concerns happening are high, especially in those emerging countries which represent business opportunities for companies wishing to generate new business and profits. But, what company’s Duty of Care policy gives a female traveller the right of refusal to travel to such destination on business?  None that I have reviewed in more than a decade of consulting experience. 

In fact, only a handful of the hundreds of corporate travellers we have trained even know of the existence of a corporate security travel policy, let alone any documented procedural guidelines and standards. Too often, companies boast that they have a Duty of Care for the safety and security of their corporate travellers, but they do not. They say they have a policy, yet the document  is not a policy but a travel advisory. Frequently, the company’s travel department lacks the authority, budget or initiative to do anything more than send out alert notices. Presumably, they expect their female corporate travellers to write “Scared, do not attack” on the back of the alert notice or pray that they will use the notice to counter attack their assailants and inflict a series of lethal paper cuts.

The solution for the safety and security of female travellers begins in the C suite. A Board member must take responsibility for Travel Risk Management. That Board member needs to have the Head of Corporate Travel, Legal Counsel and the Chief Security Officer (CSO) reporting to them. This team must collaborate and discuss how to develop an overarching policy whilst implementing effective procedures and rigorous standards. 

These initiatives need to address the needs of all corporate travellers from the time the decision is made to send an employee abroad on business, to when that traveller returns to the office for a debrief after their trip. 

Yet, what risk assessment has been conducted, destination intelligence sourced or evacuation routes identified? Who manages the ground transport and what is the safety record of both drivers and vehicles? Are the booked hotels compliant with either the Safe Hotels programme or a more tailored security protocol? Why do the company executives have AK 47-toting armed guards and heavily armoured vehicles for their short in-country visits, whilst those working with critical data ( marketing plans, customer lists, personnel records and the like) have no such protection or security  training of any sort?

The answer, of course, is money. Yet, the real reason that robust Duty of Care programmes have not been implemented nor the safety of female travellers addressed is neither economic nor political. The real reason is ignorance. 

Companies simply do not understand that they face massive financial and reputational damage if any traveler – male, female or trans – decides to sue their employer for failing to mitigate their own exposure to the loss of their liberty, life or limb. 

Such a civil action is based on tort law. The intent of tort is to provide full compensation for proven harms. Once corporate travellers recognize their rights, they will begin to sue their employers for failing  to exercise a standard of care. 

So, given that there are more corporate travellers visiting other countries on company business, and acknowledging that female travellers are more at risk today than in the past, protecting your female travellers is good business sense. 

Let’s help you protect those who need protecting. Show you care. 

Contact your travel security experts today.

 +27 21 712 3024

Travel Safe, 

Benedict N. Weaver  MA (Oxon) CPP