Terrorism: A Business Travel Fear? Really?


By Robert McGarvey

Terrorism has us shaking in our travel booties.  That’s the word from a recent poll by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) that pegged terrorism as the top worry by a large margin.

The Skift headline grabbed my eyes:

U.S. Business Travelers See Terrorism as Most-Important Concern.

I don’t believe it.  Most of the travelers I know are concerned about what they have always been concerned about – flight cancellations, bad weather, missed connections, oversold hotels (now back at some hotels in their pursuit of manna), and the consequences of missing those many birthdays and anniversaries that road warriors inevitably do miss.

Terrorism? Not so much and I say that despite all our eyes this week having been on the purported terrorist incident in London near Parliament.  

Understand, however, the reality is that this poll isn’t in fact looking at all concerns – just safety and security issues. The headline was a tad misleading.

Narrow the field to security concerns and GBTA said its poll of 798 travelers who had traveled on business at least four times in the past year, including one international trip, found 45% pegged terrorism as their top security/safety concern.  

Street crime was named by 15% as the chief worry. Illness by  13%.  Property crime 12%. Kidnapping 8%.

And about now we have to blow the whistle and say stop.

Fears are relative.

That’s why I don’t still buy that terrorism is the top worry, even when the field is narrowed to safety concerns.

It all depends on where you travel to.  Fly in and out of Singapore and Shanghai and quite probably kidnapping is not on your mind, and nor should it be.

Fly into Lagos and you had better be very concerned about kidnapping.  

Ditto parts of the Middle East, elsewhere in Africa, and parts of the Americas – all kidnapping hot spots.

Paris? Naw.

As for street crime, that too varies on the destination. If you are in Rio and aren’t concerned about street crime, that’s puzzling.

If you are in Munich, it’s not much of a worry, certainly not anything other than pickpockets.

As for illness I know travelers to India who work themselves into a state of anxiety worrying about gastrointestinal issues, and others who are going to the Caribbean who are very fearful of Zika. Justified in both instances. But I’ve never heard a visitor to Copenhagen fretting about illness.

It all depends upon the where.

That’s the problem with any poll that seeks to identify what has business travelers’ knickers in a knot.

It’s all so context dependent.

Don’t think I’m saying ignore terrorism.  In some parts of the planet it is a very real concern.

Maybe, too, wherever we go we need to think on terrorism and factor a terror thread into our travel planning – but how much we dwell on it will depend on many specifics.

Am I worried about terrorism when I am in New York? No.  Just as I am not especially worried in London and that is despite this week’s tragic incident.  

Would I be more concerned about terrorism in Tunis or Cairo or Istanbul? Yep.

Read the headlines is the first step in living in a world of terror.

Step 2 is, before going abroad, read the US State department travel advisories Because they are inherently politicized. I also will read the British Foreign Office advisories.  

Step 3: Be alert about where you stay and where you go.  In Belfast, during the years of intense terror, I visited often and never stayed in a high profile – expensive – hotel.  I bunked in low key places around Queen’s University, a neighborhood that had always been safe.

Personally I avoided the hotels preferred by big corporation business travelers.  

I also avoid large crowds wherever possible- it’s just a smart precaution.

Do likewise.

Step 4: Always have an evacuation plan in mind.  If your company has assistance resources available, know how to tap into them.  If the company doesn’t, know what your own plan is.  Don’t get caught by surprise and witless. Know your exit routes.

Was I worried about terrorism on my trips to Northern Ireland?  No.  Of course there were neighborhoods I avoided, especially after dark, there were things I would not do, but that’s just commonsense.

Commonsense in fact is my idea of the cure for a lot of travel anxieties.  Use it and your travels – generally – will be safe.

But here’s the money question what do you do if your boss tells you to catch the next plane to Algiers or Tegucigalpa? I can’t answer that for you.  I believe I would personally decline both trips unless there were very good reasons for going and a great plan for my safety.

You have to make your own call.

But word of advice: never worry about terrorism. Plan for it. Know how to deal with it.

But don’t gnash teeth.  That benefits only dentists.  


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