To manage and grow their businesses, Americans take over 16 million business trips internationally a year. To grow further, companies will continue to look for opportunities abroad, especially in emerging markets. With this expansion and international travel comes risk. Indeed, a number of cities around the world – including many that offer substantial growth opportunities for businesses – are not particularly well-regarded as safe. And, for companies and their international business travelers, safety is a significant concern. In fact, over half of all business travelers have needed some level of medical attention and 30 percent have had an incident involving their personal safety and security while traveling internationally. This paper asked two questions: one, how can business travelers and their employers determine if the place where they need to do business is safe, and two, how do various international cities rank in terms of risk factors that could impact the safety and well-being of business travelers?
The paper finds that business travelers primarily use the Internet and specifically, search engines, to answer these questions – a finding corroborated by a recent study of frequent international business travelers conducted by Europ Assistance USA that found 50 percent of respondents use a web search to prepare for international business travel. The paper also finds that the value of the Internet as a source of personal safety information – especially for business travelers – may be limited. Europ Assistance USA commissioned a poll of 50,000 people in 31 countries. This poll, the Asterisk Global Safety Perception Index, ranked relative safety issues of cities from the perspective of people who live in these cities. According to people who live and work in the cities polled, the residents of the following cities were more likely to say they felt safe in their city at night: Vancouver, Canada; Singapore; Khartoum, Sudan; Paris, France and Montreal, Canada. The poll exposed local biases including local definitions of “safe,” especially when compared to other cities. The conclusion is that while local perceptions are valid, they are just that – perceptions. They are not wholly informative. While important, these perceptions are one data point among many to consider. Relevant data points also include government stability, terrorism, criminal activity, local healthcare standards, as well as availability of transport for emergency care or evacuation.
The paper concludes that, while business travelers rank safety as their highest concern, they cannot choose where they conduct their business based solely or even primarily on the notion of “the safest city.” Opportunity is the main driver of business travel, so companies and their business travelers need the services of travel risk management experts who have the relevant intelligence and experience managing and responding to risk in a given country. Travel risk management services can help reduce the risks of international travel and allow companies to conduct business globally with peace of mind about the safety and security of their travelers.
In Search of Opportunity, Safely
Business people charged with growing their companies face many challenges. One of the largest is where to find opportunities; whether those opportunities are for new markets, new suppliers, new talent or strengthening their supply chain. Often the search for these opportunities takes people overseas and more frequently to emerging markets which tend to be less safe and pose greater risks to both travelers and their companies.
Most likely, the safest place to do business is the city in which you already work. You know the streets. You read the local media and (hopefully) you trust the local police force. If you don’t know the nearest hospital, you do know how to call for emergency help and, overall, familiarity instills comfort and a feeling of safety.
However, for many companies, doing business from the safety of their “home base” is just not an option. Opportunities are “out-there” and often outside the country. In 2005, Goldman Sachs confirmed this.
That year, Goldman Sachs Investment Bank first identified a new group of up-and-coming economies that along with the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) would soon become the largest economies in the world. Goldman Sachs called this group of economies the Next 11 (or N-11). They include Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey, South Korea and Vietnam.
The report states that:
“As a group of potentially large, fast-growing markets, with rising incomes and activity, they [the N-11] could be an important source of growth and opportunity both for companies and investors over the next two decades.”
In 2012, Americans made over 60 million trips outside the country, with 27 percent of those traveling on business. This means that Americans are making about 16 million business trips internationally every year, and increasingly, it’s to places they’ve never been before or are unfamiliar with. With each of these trips, both the employee and the employer are taking on a significant amount of risk, especially if they know little about the health and security context of the city to which they’re traveling – or worse – overestimating their own knowledge. Indeed, this seems to be the case.
In 2013, Europ Assistance USA published the second annual Asterisk International Business Travel Study. The survey polled five hundred US-based business travelers, each of whom had taken at least three trips internationally in the last 12 months. The number-one concern of those polled was safety6 – including personal security, terrorism and radicalism. Indeed, 83 percent of business travelers polled stated that safety and the ability to take care of their medical needs while traveling internationally were their highest priorities. And they should be, as wholly half of those polled have needed some kind of medical assistance while away from home and 90 percent felt unequipped to deal with political unrest, such as the Arab Spring of 2011 or the more recent events in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.
Despite these concerns, an overwhelming number of respondents – 90 percent – were confident in their knowledge of the local social and political climates of the countries they intended to visit.
So, while the travelers clearly indicated their concern is safety, the connection between that concern and their personal knowledge of local social and political climates seems tenuous. Or perhaps business travelers are just confident that CNN and other news sources are providing them with everything they need to know.
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