What every traveller should know about the Philippines bus hijacking

Yes or No?

If you want to learn the real impact and lessons learnt from the Philippines bus hijacking on the 23 Aug 2010, then you will want to read this article. Specifically we’ll cover the role and impact of the media, the heightened awareness created by the event, wildly varied responses and the impact it has on travelers. After you read this article, you should have a more balanced and informed view of the situation  that will help you determine “Is it safe to travel to the Philippines?”

The media played a pivotal role in the event as it occurred but what is more important is the legacy of the event and how it will influence the future. This may seem obvious but there is more to the story. Due to the fact, there was no attempt or control of the media throughout the incident, not only were live events beamed around the world but thanks to the online video explosion in recent years, this event will be referenced and recalled unlike similar incidents for years to come. Some commentators have already predicted that the catastrophic assault will become the global doctrine for military and police forces on “how not to assault a hostage filled bus.”

Conventional media broadcasting coupled with the greater penetration of social media has guaranteed that this event has affected far more people than any similar, historical example. Hong Kong is a very interconnected society with high technology ownership and usage. So much so, this event was broadcast live across the country in public areas on screens ranging from private hand phones to large building size public screens in the middle of shopping centers. Entire shopping districts stood in silence and starred as the tragic events unfolded. In this case, it would be a better question to ask “who did not see it?” This tragedy has cut the very core of a country’s social heart on a new and disturbing level.

Few people who travel to the Philippines, particularly leisure, are fully aware of the threats. Widespread access to firearms, internal low-level conflicts, violent crimes, targeting of specific ethnic groups and many more. However. much like a shark attack report, that grips every swimmer with dread and the potential to over react to the real threat, this event has amplified the minority while overshadowing the majority. You are still at greater risk of a bus crash in the Philippines than being boarded by a hostile gunman and shot dead. Fact! It seems that the elements of the government are equally less aware.

The Hong Kong government’s total and specific ban to the Philippines is baseless and more political than measured. The current government advisory indicates that countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Pakistan have “signs of threat” and recommends monitoring and caution. Whereas the Philippines, the only country in this category, is labelled “severe threat” and advice states “avoid all travel.” This act has brought the well meaning government advisory intent into disrepute. There is a social demand to respond to this event but over stating and manipulating the advisory destroys the confidence and use of such advisories. It will not be held credible or trusted in the future. It also forces other nationalities to question just how emotive, censored or adversely influence are their own government advisories.

There is a bigger concern, unrealized by many as a result of the government advisory. Many, if not all insurance policies base their assessment and policy standard on government threat levels. It is a far from effective, let alone perfect, approach but the prevailing practice none-the-less. This means, that if a government declares a travel ban to location or country, all travel policies tied to that threat level are affected. This means, there are people traveling, or potentially traveling with a null-and-void agreement or suspended travel insurance policy. How many travelers or corporate travel managers know about this affect?

When terrorists attacked the London underground and buses, how many countries banned all travel to London or the UK? When thousands were killed and displaced due to an earthquake in Sichuan province (China) how many countries banned all travel to China? When terrorists attacked a hotel in central Jakarta (Indonesia) how many countries banned all travel to Indonesia? Hong Kong didn’t, why now? Even the Mumbai attacks were treated more rationally than this event. This is due largely due to media coverage, social impact, depth and breadth of community affected and the violence of action witnessed live.

This event puts us all at risk. Criminals and terrorists calculate how affective the emergency services, police and military will be in countering or stopping their plans. They have to make an educated guess unless they have firm evidence on just how competent these positive blockers are in fulfilling their duties. Everyone now knows just how capable the police were in this instance. Others, who may have been deterred in acting in a similar fashion, will potentially be embolden to act now they know they have a greater chance of success. Conversely, those that have been looking for “a way” to get their issue heard and grab the headlines, now have pre-tested marketing plan laid out for them. How many incidents involving buses, attacks on tourists or violent crimes will we now see in the Philippines and around the world? Following the Mumbai attacks, we saw at least 3 similar attacks and many others prevented. Similar threats remain a concern for many to this day and beyond.

There is no reason to cancel all travel to the Philippines for either business or leisure purposes. Some will cancel travel plans because of this misunderstanding, unnecessarily. Social media and conventional media are great tools but the popularity of any given issue should not determine the gravity of response. A single violent man created this situation and his actions alone lead to the loss of life and suffering, not the police. No one is perfect and for the most part the emergency services within the Philippines do the very best they can with what they have but they do have shortfalls and you need to be aware and prepared for the consequences. Governments have the interest and concerns of the entire population in mind when they set any benchmarks. Broad-spectrum advice will never suit the few, the prepared or special circumstances. The true risk to travelers is based on the individual’s preparation, activity while traveling, support available, ability to respond to events and location visited. If assessed specifically and consistently, you too will determine that travel to the Philippines remains no more/less risky than it was prior before this event. Despite what some may have lead you to believe. Travel safely!


Ashes in our mouths-How a volcano shed light on the true state of affairs in corporate travel risk management

Friend or Foe?

Friend or foe?

Volcanos that erupt and disrupt the world’s travel plans don’t happen every day but travel disruptions and threats to travelers do. It often takes a dynamic or amplified event to display just how much planning and oversight goes into day-to-day risk management, in order to reveal just how ineffective the process may be overall.

Travel buyers have admitted that the volcano eruption in Iceland has taken a substantial bite out of their 2010 travel budget, if a new survey is to be believed.

Polling its international members, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) found that some 71% of global travel buyers said the disruption in Europe has resulted in a “substantial” economic hit on their travel spend for the year. Of this 71%, 36% percent described the unanticipated expenses as “severe”. An additional 21% indicated the hit was slight, while 8% reported being unaffected.

“It is important to note that the financial factors of this crisis have a special significance in the light of the fragile global economic recovery for business in general and business travel in particular,” said ACTE president Richard Crum. “If even just 1% of the industry’s financial contribution to the global economy were affected, that would equate to roughly 4 billion euros.”

Crum added that travel managers have been preparing for contagion, pandemic, conflict, war, and earthquakes for years. For many travelers, that level of preparedness was reflected in their corporate response to the eruptions in Iceland. Forty-seven percent of companies responding to the ACTE survey had a plan in place to accommodate stranded travelers. Twenty-nine percent did not have a specific program for this crisis, but moved forward with implementing one cobbled from other crisis programs. Twenty-five percent believe this crisis is so extraordinary and rare, that no preparation could have dealt with these developments and have no immediate intentions to change their policies.

The unanticipated expense of the crisis has already taken a big bite out of existing travel budgets for 2010, but survey respondents believe the crisis would not force the company to travel less in 2010 (76%). Twenty-two percent were unsure as the crisis is ongoing and 2% said yes.

Stories continue to emerge of how travelers and companies have been forced to sleep in airport terminals, pay thousands of dollars for taxi rides across countries or cancel major business activities, all the while suffering substantial productivity losses of some of their company’s most valuable human resource group. It is not acceptable that company travelers be subjected to the same limited response or emergency interventions as your everyday tourists, in the event of such wide spread disruptions. If you have been significantly affected, you have failed and your system just doesn’t work.

Poor surveillance of developing events, superficial plans and even less effective decision making methodologies reduce workable response options; if any exist after such systemic failure. Failure to identify and plan for whole-of-journey risk management leads to situations where your traveler/s is stranded in transit without a valid visa forcing them to sleep en mass in terminals with limited solutions. Similar oversights lead to false hopes that the situation will correct itself and “anytime soon” everything will be okay. After all this, if you believe that the overall situation will return to normal and you and your travelers will be on their way immediately after the airspace ban has been lifted, again; you’re in for a nasty shock.

Numerous managers and travelers now understand the various roles required to achieve productive, efficient and safe travel management. Your insurance company is more than capable, and perhaps willing, to process your claim for losses and expenditure incurred but you are still stuck at the airport without a workable solution and suffering a major loss in productivity for those that are typically within the top 20% of your human capital earning (compensation and business contribution) demographic. Your cheque will arrive in the mail and tangible loss/expenditure compensated. It still doesn’t get you from A to B or even via D. Your local office or contacts don’t possess the network or experience to manage your requirements, especially when the rest of the world is scrambling for the same resources. Those without wild stories of adventure to relate after this event are not inclusive of a well thought out plan and capacity to act. Those with a more boring story to tell but maintained productivity and contained costs, all the while preserving the safety of their people, have in their team brokers, insurance, travel management companies and assistance. Which is the smarter business option?

Total failure resulting in numerous stranded people are the result of high walled departments without collaboration. Lack of unification and leadership/ownership in the practice of travel risk management has lead to wide spread helplessness and stranding. If you have key executives traveling for leisure also affected that will prevent them returning to work as scheduled, you have yourself to blame and your appreciation has proven to be too shallow.

This is not over. Hotels are likely to default on bookings for pending travel as they still haven’t been able to clear the backlog of stranded travelers. Ground transport will be stretched and prices will rise even further. Government departments will debate the options but essentially there is nothing you can do to influence their inconsistent influence. Airlines will be pressured into economic decisions long before safety data is consolidated or examined under normal parameters. The thousands of inbound and outbound travellers will take much longer than a few days to clear, not forgetting those adding to the mele than need/want to travel this week. Overtime payments, supplies of food and water to airports, cash reserves and transnational collaboration will all act upon the solutions and choices. It is one thing to read about this in the media but do you really have a handle on what is happening and how it affects you? Failure to do so will compound past mistakes too.

There was adequate warning that this event would have far reaching implications. The impact could be calculated. There was opportunity to implement plans or develop an effective solution to support the objective and effective, rehearsed management teams would have had sufficient time to assess the impact and act accordingly. The final impact was not fate but determined by everything you have done to date. You have been weighed, you have been measured; have you been found wanting?

Business class is cheaper than economy: whole-of-journey travel risk management

Just what have you cut?

Just what have you cut?

The majority of travel departments/managers are only empowered, authorized or capable of looking at travel management from a cost perspective exclusively. However, to truly ensure that the process of travel is efficient, profitable and safe; a much wider focus is required-predominantly in the areas of cost, productivity and safety.  When such a wider and more comprehensive perspective is engaged, most organizations will discover that business class flights are in reality much cheaper than economy class for the majority of their executives and traveling talent.

Consider a short-haul flight of under four hours. For an executive this will typically translate to an eight-hour working day. If traveling in economy class they will typically need to be at the airport nearly 2 hours before departure. Even with privileged frequent-flier status they will need to be checked in much earlier than their business class counterparts. Without such privileges, the time required maybe even longer as check-in queues and airline efficiency lengthen and decline respectively. The immigration processing will potentially be lengthened also as many airlines now have preferential immigration processing of business travelers. The traveller in economy will now be left to fend for themselves in the public seating/WiFi/meals environment of economy class travel. Boarding time will be  lengthened and carry-on luggage will be reduced which again will have added to the overall pre-departure time.  Regardless of the physical size of the traveller, their work laptop, the airline or the seating space; very few people get anything close to productive work conducted whilst in economy.  Not to mention, when corners have been cut,  everyone within proximity of a business laptop user can often see the entire content and context of business presentations, e-mails, discussions and intellectual property. The arrival stage will also entail longer immigration processing times, time lost awaiting baggage and jostling within the bulk of the flights travelers. If after all this, on a short-haul flight you expect the traveller to bring their A game or deliver pivotal business results, you should prepare yourself for disappointment now.

Conversely, a journey that has been considered in a whole of risk  manner will play out significantly different. First, the traveller will have the time and flight best suited to the work productivity objectives and reduced commute, check-in and processing times. Utilization of the business lounge will ensure productivity and access to information and systems prior before departure. Overall fatigue and affect on the individual will also be reduced. Whilst not entirely risk free, the threat to personal belongings, company information  or other valuables will also be reduced.  Productivity (best calculated by adding the per hour cost to the company for the executive and the per hour revenue potential of the trip or executive) will also be enhanced by a compact yet usable mobile workspace. Even if the individual is not conducting work on a computer platform, the demands to the individual  are also diminished.  It is also almost ensured that the executive will hit the ground running and clear the aircraft, immigrations and baggage claim much faster, leaving only the commute from the airport to the place of business. This streamlining and efficiency is also replicable for multiple travelers or trips.

When analyzing all of these factors (even in a developed country) the hundreds or even thousands of dollars between economy class and business class travel is often much cheaper than the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars  of business productivity, time and dollars at risk. However, the functional heads responsible for cost, productivity and safety are all typically measured and evaluated on cost containment rather than profitability or maximized earnings of their senior executives. All of these elements are significantly amplified in developed or developing countries. When the entire journey is constructed along whole-of-journey travel risk management lines thousands or even millions of dollars in opportune business can be preserved while appropriate expenditure managed. Reduction or elimination of disruption and wastage can be easily achieved. When it comes to whole-of-journey travel risk management most companies are penny wise and pound foolish. There is nothing more comical and economically tragic than a senior executive or CEO traveling on a budget airline. While sitting in cheap seats being nonproductive and paying five dollars for peanuts or drinks they are losing thousands of dollars or even millions in productivity or earnings for the sake of a few bucks. In the wake of the financial crisis, some very savvy financial institutions openly conveyed that they dare not reduce the privilege, risk or status of their major wealth generation executives for fear of losing them to more competitive or sophisticated banks or financial institutions. Why should this be any different in the face of many other threats to talent and revenue?

The empirical data and evidence of enhanced productivity and efficient travel risk management exists at present in every company. The only limitation is that few are rewarded or supported in harvesting, processing and analysis of such data. If companies and their respective leadership took the time to stop and analyze such processes or even historical culture within the organization, they would find that simple and efficient adaptation of such processes like the use of business class travel versus economy class travel could potentially unlock thousands of hours of productivity and greater business competitiveness. This is certainly the case in developed markets and significantly more acute in developing markets where there is an accumulation of much greater threat, costs, threat disruptions and safety issues.

The question then  is not “Is business class is cheaper than economy?” but more a case of  “Can you accurately prove that it’s not?”

Here today gone tomorrow-International gatherings and sporting events; security threats and concerns

Where to now?

Where to now?

International events such as major product launches, corporate meetings, annual or regular sporting events continue to fall outside the standard methodology and practices of risk and people risk management. Many organizations and individuals, also fail to anticipate or include this in travel risk management strategies for leisure or non-corporate travel.

The bigger the event; often the greater lack of oversight. Many organizations and planners have gotten themselves into what they consider ‘ a well rehearsed process’. However, given the continual growth in this area, one event could be just one of dozens or even hundreds on their annual calendar. Therefore, some planning groups do not even start their planning for these events until mere weeks before the start of the event.  They have become so familiar with the process (in their minds) that they simply template their planning preparation and even the threat profiles.

Issue motivated groups, criminals and even terrorists all have wants and needs. Along with these wants and needs, there a number of capabilities, intent and even historical success that are required before they can even be considered to be truly a threat.  More often than not, criminals and terrorists prefer people over places. Meaning; they will go to where the people are, particular if they gather in large numbers. It often has less to do about location than the accessibility and opportunity for victims or attention. Increasingly, terrorist and issue motivated groups, are about striking at social activities rather than iconic landmark locations. This means that many are at walking into the exact locations or circumstances preferred by both criminals and terrorists alike. In recent times sporting events have even been high on the list of preferred locations. Even athletes have become preferred targets.

Online bookings, cheaper airfares, product launches, the thrill of seeing your star athletes perform live are all increasingly motivating more and more people to travel to these major events and super events. This can in turn result in small or moderate sized cities and locations expanding well beyond their infrastructure capacity or overburdening everything from amenities to emergency services. The planning and preparation vary from city-to-city, location-to-location and even encompass cultural limitations. One should never assume that one particular event held in different locations is even remotely close to the same standard of planning, preparation or resources met with at the last.

Over the course of the next few months, everything from the soccer World Cup to the Shanghai Expo will see hundreds of thousands or millions of travellers descend on individual or clusters of location. These events to, have persistent and specific threats that will affect all travellers and attendees. They will range from the minor and routine, the life-threatening or catastrophic.

Part of the threat are travellers or attendees themselves.  In simple terms you should know before you go. Understanding, adapting and preparing for the local circumstances, rather than just transit or your location of origin, is far more important if not pivotal to determine the success of an overall trip. Many times; Google just does not cut it! One should have accurate and specific advice that helps shape your decision planning an even logistics. Increasingly companies are providing this on behalf of their employees.

Local standards vary. The nature and even the scope of services provided at many of these events are likely to be different to what you may be accustomed at home. You may think it remote, or even unlikely to require such services but you should at least pay attention in order to understand how they will work in the event of an incident, accident or even an emergency.

Plan. Set time aside, to research study and understand the location and even the event in which you are travelling to enjoy. If you have resources to draw upon, use them. If not, seek them out, share and collaborate; but do not omit. It’s not so much the plan that’s important, it’s the planning.

Manage. All journeys (regardless of planning) present choices at various stages of the event. Informed and wise choices are based on the extent and knowledge applied to those particular choices. Ad hoc, ill informed, or simply cavalier choices often result in dangerous outcomes. Ensure you remain updated to changing circumstances. Maintain awareness of your activities and the surroundings in which you’re travelling.  This should be applied to every stage from arrivals, transit to hotels, travel between events and locations; up to and including your return to the airport and subsequent departure.

Actions. Think through plausible scenarios in advance. Consider what resources may be required. Complement those resources with your applied knowledge and access to support services. Should anything occur, that requires even the most routine of responses up to an inclusive life safety and security incidents, your understanding in advance will determine or govern a successful outcome. This should by no means be an individual undertaking, and all travellers or attendees should consider leveraging from other support networks.

Bad things happen to good people all the time. It’s just a fraction of the overall time required to be spent on planning, managing and determining actions, that will determine the success of any incident, big or small.

The Great Human Migration-Chinese New Year 2010

The joy of travel?

This year’s Chinese New Year (CNY) celebrations is predicted to result in 210 million travellers, akin to the entire population of Indonesia or Brazil up and holidaying at the same time. Up 10% on last year. Air travel alone will see an increase of 29 million air travellers over the 40 days, the average monthly visitor rates for either Hong Kong or Singapore. All this makes CNY one of the great annual human migrations.

While current or persistent threats continue to act upon traveller and expatriates alike, this pilgrimage will generate and amplify a number of issues.

Airline safety and security was on the cusp of an easing of accepted trends and boarding protocols thanks to continuous and mounting pressure from consumer groups and sovereign representatives. The December 2009 attempt to detonate a device on a commercial carrier has changed that and allowed for another round of preventative frenzies and reflection. Other less popular issues have also been tabled for review such as the proliferation of falsified passports, raised by the head of Interpol.

Any major convergence of people presents a variety of public health and safety concerns. Coupled with epidemics, pandemics and varied personal hygiene standards; this will raise the level of risk to those exposed. Specific pathogens are ideally suited for transmission during this time or may benefit from accelerated global transmission. The first line of defence will be the traveller themselves.

Novice and seasonal travellers will be at risk by their actions. Carrying large cash reserves (for gift giving and travel spending), extensive wardrobe (cold and hot weather temperate zone shifts), prohibited items needed for sustenance (food and water), health maintenance (medicines and foods) and an inability to keep up to date on events that affect their travel will present opportunity to thieves, delay and frustration.

Commercial conditions will change and in some instances become hostile. Price hikes, touting, fraud, diminished services and decreased service staff will frustrate the process. While it should seem obvious that cab drivers and government staff would also partake in the seasonal break many are unprepared when they discover decreased or suspended support. Many employees will take extended holidays around key dates or public holidays.

Natural events such as weather and earthquakes will continue unabated and have a greater opportunity to disrupt. Concentrations of travellers are not the only ones at risk with those planning on connecting or transiting through areas that are affected.

The holiday and travel activity this Chinese New Year should be memorable for all the right reasons. Acknowledgement and planning for the overall upscale movements of millions of like-minded travellers will smoothen the likely mental stress. The plan is not the focal point to ensure a great family time or break but the planning process. This is even more essential for the business traveller. Consider all the facts, get good advice, keep abreast of changes as they happen, look out for others, keep in contact and be prepared to do specific things if something does go wrong.

Bad things happen to good people all the time but that number reduces dramatically for those with a plan and support.

Full Article


Travel Security and Risk Management Forum