Business Travelers Prepare For War

Many corporations are cutting travel to essential business only, but business still needs to be conducted.
Moses Frenck

Following President Bush’s announcement on Monday that the United States intends to go to war with Iraq, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security elevated the Threat Advisory to a “High” risk of terrorist attacks–level orange–and warned travelers to be more vigilant overseas.

While travelers have been on a higher state of alert, to a degree, since the terrorist attacks of 2001, concern for security has grown in recent days as global diplomacy has dwindled.

Many corporations are cutting travel to essential business only, but business still needs to be conducted and business travelers venturing overseas–albeit in smaller numbers–are subject to the current global instability and must be fully aware of any developments in those regions.

The State Department has issued travel warnings for Americans to avoid travel to 36 countries since last year, primarily nations in the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans and South America. In the first three months of 2003, travel warnings have been issued for 20 countries, including three nations this week: Israel, Kuwait and Syria.

Additionally, the State Department this week issued an announcement of potential terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions that pose significant risks or disruptions to Americans for the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific and Turkey, and issued a worldwide caution in February.

Due to tightened security within the United States, terrorists may target U.S. interests overseas, focusing on targets where security is not as tight, according to the warning. These may include facilities where Americans and Westerners generally are known to congregate or visit, such as clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, hotels, outdoor recreation events or resorts and beaches.

“Private Americans should remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and exercise caution,” according to the State Department. “Terrorist groups and individuals have proved that they do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. There is a possibility that American citizens may be targeted for kidnapping or assassination.”

Business travelers must rely on information about their destinations and be aware of any situations. To monitor and be on top of such developments, however, is time consuming and tedious when business at hand is the top priority.

Several security and travel intelligence companies have risen in prominence during the past couple of years and are focusing on providing travelers and the companies they work for with the most up-to-the-minute information on all aspects relevant to a traveler.

Corporations are responding to potential threats by implementing contingency plans and placing a priority on the ability to track employees traveling overseas.

Annapolis, Md.-based iJet Travel Intelligence, a risk-assessment firm, monitors every region of the world for current events and trends that might impact travel, including security, health, transportation, entry/exit situations, legal issues, environment, financial, culture and language, according to Rick Lurie, iJet vice president of operations, whose background (like that of many iJet employees) includes years of service within civil and military intelligence.

The firm provides 24-hour updates by e-mail, on a personalized Web site and/or by pushing information to travelers’ wireless devices. Ijet monitors all aspects of a traveler’s itinerary and is able to provide information ranging from flight delays to health concerns to potential violence on the ground. The basic service costs $25 a month.

A passenger’s itinerary is kept in iJet’s databases, while all of the intelligence the firm gathers also is kept in a database. With its automated systems, information pertinent to certain travelers then is matched and transmitted to them, Lurie said. General information, such as the Threat Advisory level elevated to “High,” is sent to all travelers, while specific information is transmitted to travelers in the affected regions.

“For example, an American and a Canadian were killed in Yemen this week,” Lurie said. “We know who is in Yemen and who is scheduled to travel to Yemen, and we can contact that traveler or company to alert them of the situation.”

Lurie said iJet monitors 6,500 sources of information, including television, radio and local news in 16 languages in places where developments do not necessarily make it to CNN. Additionally, he said, his firm monitors Web cams situated in locations throughout the world and is in communication with dozens of geopolitical, security and medical experts who have lived and worked in those countries. Ijet continues to provide information for 30 days after the travel date in the event of new safety developments or health advisories.

Feedback from overseas travelers also is encouraged, Lurie said. “There’s nothing better than information from people that are there,” adding that no information is disseminated unless it is validated by two or more sources.

Ijet focuses on pending hostilities in 182 countries and 268 specific cities around the world, as well as covers basic information on the 50 most traveled U.S. cities, Lurie said, but stressed that the biggest impact to travelers, which also is monitored, is transportation delays. “That’s what affects most people.”

(Originally published in Business Travel News March 19, 2003.)