Fear and loathing abroad

Recent research by Executive Travel magazine and Visa International has established that one in three business travellers is deterred from visiting countries which are considered unsafe.

The survey, which involved 1,000 UK frequent flyers, found that over half of the men and three quarters of the women questioned felt vulnerable when travelling overseas and over a third avoided visiting certain countries altogether.

While business travellers expect their companies to provide travel security information, nearly half said employers did nothing to prepare them for trips and fewer than a third received even general advice.

The report highlighted the need for such security information – particularly about emerging destinations – both to allay fears and to correct any misconceptions.

Of those surveyed, one in seven had been mugged, which was their greatest overall concern (65 per cent). But the most common problem encountered was being overcharged by taxi drivers, although this can be avoided by having a colleague or hotel representative meet you at the airport.

Around half of female travellers questioned and over a third of men buy travel guides and request safety information from their travel agencies.

When visiting a new and possibly dangerous destination, the majority arrange for a colleague to meet them at the airport, and nearly two thirds think carefully about their choice of airline. Nearly half considered their travel agents had some responsibility for keeping them informed on security. In fact, travel agents were regarded by the majority as being potentially the most useful source of advice.

But there are other dangers to be wary of. One traveller says the greatest threat to personal safety is road accidents. “Taipei taxi-drivers are suicidal and I've refused on more than one occasion to get into a totally unroadworthy cab in Bombay,” he says. And it is not just overseas where one has to take care. Another traveller confides: “Despite visits to Russia and Africa, I am honestly more frightened by the M25 getting to the airport.”

Security information on destinations can be obtained from the Foreign Office and US State Department information is available on the Internet.

But there are also some common safety tips:

Leave as little to chance as possible – find out about the country before you go, talk to people who either live or have been there, and seek advice from specialist companies.

Keep a close eye on luggage at the airport. It is best to be met by business contacts or a hotel courtesy bus. Otherwise, only use a taxi which is obviously licensed and waiting in an official queue. If in doubt, ask an airport official.

Lock your hotel door and check the identification of visitors before opening. When you go out, leave the radio and light on and do not hang the “room to be cleaned” sign on the door. Put valuables in the hotel safe.

Hire a car and driver for business meetings. Failing this, licensed taxis are usually safe. Try to book both outward and return transport, although not too far in advance – the fewer people who know your arrangements the better.

If walking, plan your route before setting out. Visitors maps on street corners are sitting ducks for muggers.

Do not walk alone at night and avoid deserted or poorly-lit streets.

Do not flash around cameras, jewellery or large sums of money in public. Do not wear bum-bags as they can be ripped off in seconds. Use concealed money-belts strapped across your stomach or thigh, or keep wallets in inside jacket pockets.

If you are attacked, don't be a hero. Co-operate and don't make sudden movements. Consider carrying a wallet with around £30 in local currency (“muggers' toll'), some expired credit cards and a few useless receipts. Simply pulling a wad of money from a pocket may only convince muggers you have more cash on you.

If driving, keep doors locked and windows closed. Do not wind down windows to speak to pedestrians, drivers or motorcyclists; thieves may try to lure drivers out of cars by pretending they have a problem or asking directions. Ignore suspicious accidents such as a single body on the road with cars around. Drive on and report it to the nearest police station.

Ensure someone always knows where you are or where you should be.