How To Mitigate Risks When Traveling To A Foreign Country

Whether you are a first time traveler or a frequent traveler, travel safety starts with you. To some people, traveling overseas form part and parcel of their office work. They are exposed to risks whenever they go for an overseas trip.

People going on overseas business trips for various reasons, such as:

– attending business meetings / seminars / workshops,
– presenting academic papers / giving lectures,
– participating in trade missions / exhibitions / cultural presentations,
– signing agreements / memorandum of understandings (MOUs),
– collecting materials for articles or books,
– participating in students’ exchange programs,
– perform Hajj or Umrah, etc.

The writer, being a frequent traveler, tries to list down as many types of risks as possible that are likely to be faced by an overseas’ traveler. It can be categorised into five parts, namely early preparation; at the airport; while in the host country & personal safety; hotel safety; and return journey.

Travelers should bear in mind that security precautions are tight at the airports and hotels and thus they must learn to take wise and prudent precautions when traveling. Readers should also take note that ideas given here are not exhaustive, they are intended to be used only as a guide and safety traveling tips derived from other sources should also be considered.

Early preparation

Based on writer’s own experience, there are not many risks involved here except for a careful preparation. This will usually include: a passport; two-way flight reservation; hotel reservation; host country’s visa requirement; currency; any required vaccination; and travel insurance.

The passport is considered as your own life. It is also the most frequently used document whenever you travel. It is used during visa application, check-in counter at the airports, immigration & customs counters, check-in counter at the hotel, cashing of travelers cheques (if applicable), etc.

In terms of packing, it is up to an individual’s taste. However, the golden rule to follow is – always travel light. Petty thieves and pickpockets love to exploit or prey on tired travelers burdened with heavy luggage. Other safety reminders when packing: pack your luggage yourself; lock your check-in luggage, so that nothing can be put in or taken out; use plain-looking luggage, (designer, fancy or expensive-looking luggage attracts attention of potential snatchers); use luggage tag and place another one inside the luggage; remove old airline destination tags; and carry the appropriate clothes.

For those carrying a notebook, always check first the type of plug the host country is using – it can be British three-pin, European two-pin round, American two-pin flat or others. If in doubt, bring along an international adapter. To avoid attracting attention, travelers are encouraged to place their notebooks in non-notebook bags.

Perhaps you may also want to bring along reasonable supply of medicine for common illnesses, such as fever, diarrhoea, cough, cold, etc. One last reminder, do not carry any sharp object, inflammable items and check-in at the airport at least 3 hours before departure.

It is to your advantage if your organization has a local contact to take care of you while you are in the host country.

At the airport

Business travelers should be aware of following security & safety precautions: refrain from carrying luggage or packages for others; never leave your luggage unattended at the airport, even in perceived safe place, e.g. Golden lounge; always carry your cabin luggage with you when getting off from the plane during a stopover or transit flight; avoid talking about your office work, purpose of travel, accommodation, itinerary, etc. with strangers. If you need to put down your luggage, place them in between your legs.

While in the host country & personal safety

After completing all disembarkation formalities, the first thing to do is to wait for the check-in luggage, if any. The luggage claim area is normally situated just immediately after the immigration counter. Upon collecting the luggage, check properly if there is any sign of it being tampered with. Somebody who is working in the airport complex may have tried to tamper with passengers’ belongings, perhaps at random. If this happens to your luggage, report to security desk immediately.

Before leaving the airport, call your local contact if you have one. It is advisable to change some money into local currency. You may need to pay for the taxi fare from airport to the hotel in local currency. At some places, however, you may use the service of one of the reputable taxi company counters and the fare is charged to your hotel bill.

Travelers may want to take note that in some countries, U.S. Dollars is considered as a commodity. Tampering of notes will affect the value of exchange rate. The exchange rate may vary according to notes bill – higher notes bill commands a higher exchange rate.

If your business meeting will be held outside your hotel, book the hotel’s taxi for your transportation needs. It may be a bit more expensive, but it is safer. Always go out in pairs, whenever possible. In many cities, taxis are reliable, however, get ready with some small change as many taxi drivers do not have it. Small change can also be conveniently used as a tip, if you feel like giving it for the good service rendered.

As a reminder, it is normal for a building’s security personnel to request for your ID in exchange for a visitor’s pass. You may give any form of ID, but never your passport.

To minimise personal risks while traveling overseas, it is suggested that you follow simple tips as follows: inform or register with your country’s High Commission; inform or register with Country/Area Manager’s Office (applicable to certain multinational corporations having offices overseas); keep a low profile and do not show-off; do not display money or jewellery in public; carry cellular phone at all times; learn not to trust just anybody; as much as possible, try to look like locals, e.g. dressing; learn to break from routine; do not get caught in local’s civil strife – stay indoors; do not drive, therefore road accident can be avoided; if arrested, contact your High Commission immediately for assistance; use shoulder wallet to keep your passport, airplane ticket, cash, etc; never get involved with drugs; avoid going out alone and reduce time spent on the streets; women should not walk alone on the streets to avoid unnecessary harassment; and beware of criminals who pose as plainclothes police personnel in order to rob foreign tourists.

Other useful travelling tips include: keep both hands free; keep passport, plane ticket and cash on you at all times; make photocopies of passport and plane ticket, but keep them separately from the originals; be careful about using your maps as they portray that you are a foreigner or a tourist; keep blood type identity in your purse / wallet, if available; place cellular phone properly, for theft is common in certain countries; suggest to bring along passport-size photographs; avoid buying too many expensive items using credit cards. Always check the amount on the credit card sales purchase slip before signing; eat only cooked food and drink bottled drinking water or bottled mineral water; bring a signalling device, e.g. a whistle with neck cord; practise using local public telephone, if possible; learn to divide placing valuable items you are carrying; do not accept food or drink from strangers – they may be drugged; and when ordering bottled or canned liquid, ensure that it is opened only in front of your eyes.

Hotel safety

In beefing up security, hotels in certain countries install metal detector arch or are using hand-held type metal detector to screen guests as well as visitors.

As a safety precaution during your hotel check-in, request for a room that is located not higher than the sixth floor, if available. It is easier to escape during an emergency, e.g. fire. Travelers should be security aware that rooms on lower floors provide easy access for burglars or intruders. During check-in, place your luggage in front of you.

After check-in, carry your own luggage to your room. Women travelers who arrive late at night may want to request a bell boy or porter to carry the luggage direct to the room, with you accompanying him. When you first enter your hotel room, check the room thoroughly (in the bathroom, connecting door, behind the curtain, in the closet, etc.) to ensure that the room is really empty and safe before closing the door.

To reduce or minimize risks while staying at the hotel, the following do’s and don’ts are useful: choose a newly built hotel. Surely the management had installed the latest safety gadgets available in the market; check the location of fire exit and staircase, etc. It is useful when you need to move out or evacuate quickly during an emergency, e.g. fire, bomb threat, terrorist attack, earthquake, etc. Remember that the lift is out of service during an emergency; for an extra protection of you and your valuables, consider using a rubber wedge or door stopper that you usually use at home; always have a torch light with extra batteries – to be used when electricity supply is cut off. Some hotels provide a torch light, usually placed in the closet; verify callers before opening the door; display “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door; check with the hotel if tap water can be used for drinking. In certain countries, you cannot drink the tap water, even after boiling it for it may upset your stomach. Boil the supplied mineral water to make drinks; place your belongings at one or two places only. It is easier to pack them again should you need to move out quickly, e.g. in case of emergency; to avoid hotel theft, keep all belongings under locked when going out from the room; and if you have scheduled your meeting in the same hotel where you are staying, it is to your advantage to check the location of the room first at your earliest convenience.

Return journey

For security reason, it is safer to travel direct from your hotel to the airport. Travelers should plan ahead as to when to leave the hotel for traffic conditions in certain cities are unpredictable.
Departing passengers are required to fill in the Embarkation Card. They are also required to pay for airport tax, if this is not included as part of plane ticket fare.
Again, do not carry any sharp object, inflammable items and check-in at least 3 hours before departure.

Always remember that travel safety begins with you.

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Group Travel – How to Organize It

This article is intended to help you organize successful group travel; whether you are new to group travel organisation or are simply looking to improve on your experiences. It is aimed at a variety of people in mind. You may be an allocated tour committee member, Social secretary, Club president; or you may be a manager having been asked to organize a corporate trip. You may also be a best man organizing a stag ‘do’ or simply organizing a holiday for a large group of friends.

Where to Start
If you have not organised group travel before you are probably thinking where do I start? If you have organised group travel before and it did not go so smoothly you should be asking – where should I have started last time?

The first thing you need to decide is who will be responsible for what, make sure those roles are clearly defined, and that the individuals understand their responsibilities. The number of people who need to be involved in organizing group travel will vary depending on your group and destination. For small and informal groups you may decide that you will take responsibility for all the tasks. For large and more formal groups it is often best to assign tasks to multiple people.

You should consider:

Who will be responsible for collecting money?
For sports or performing arts groups – who will organize kit and clothing
Who will sell the tour to your group and convince them to go.
Who will organize your group – make sure they all have up-to-date passports, organize rooming lists, and carry out any other administration that needs to be done.
Fundraising- if required
Idea brainstorming
Once you have decided on these responsibilities you need to come up with some general ideas of where your group should go and what they should do. In some cases this will be easy as other factors will have already pre-determined this. If you are a sports group and are organising a trip for a sports tournament, your destination and main activity will have already been set. In this situation you should consider what other activities you may also want to do in order that you get the most enjoyment out of your trip.
In many cases brainstorming will be a much more involved process. If you are a music group wishing to go on tour then the options are almost endless with regards to destinations, concerts and itineraries.

You will probably need to do some research into ideas for your group and the brainstorming process could take several weeks. Why not get some ideas from the experts! There are a number of professional group travel organizers out there who will be full of ideas and have probably done something similar before. Contacting a professional group organizer will not cost you anything and will enable you to pick their brains. A number of group travel organizers also provide a large collection of pre-built itineraries on their web sites. You may be able to take one of these directly or adapt it to meet your needs. You can also do research in to destinations on the web by using web sites such as ‘Trip Adviser’ or ‘In Europe’ to help get some ideas. If you are traveling in Britain then use visit britain. This is a great web site with lots of useful information. As well as destination and itineraries you will need to think about approximate date of travel, likely numbers, accommodation type, and extra excursions that you might want to do.

Budget
A group’s budget is very important. If you create an over priced trip or holiday then no one from your group will be able to come. Equally if you set the budget so low, then you will end up in accommodation that no one wants to stay in, which again may put them off coming.

You need to agree a price range that you think your group can afford and create your trip based on that. If you want to go on a week’s tour to Europe but realize that your group can only realistically afford £100 each then you will need to consider fundraising or making an adjustment to your tour in terms of time length, destination or itinerary.

Remember any group can afford a tour it just takes the right amount of planning, creativity and preparation. Some members may have a particularly difficult economic background. You may want to consider subsidizing these members from the clubs funds and fundraising. Some people may also be prepared to pay more in order to reduce the cost to others. You should also take into consideration free places for yourself. In most group bookings you should be able to get a free hotel bed for every 25 members in the group although coach prices are not normally affected.

Getting your group together
The first step is in persuading people to go on your group trip. There are three main factors that decide this. Does the trip appeal to them, is it at a price they can afford and how charismatic are you at selling them the idea! If you can get these three things right then you should have no problem in getting most of your group to go on the trip.

Administrating group travel can be quite time consuming and challenging. You can find your self having to ring people multiple times because they are not in. Chasing people up who have not done something you asked them to do, dealing with people who have dropped out or adding new members on to the tour who now want to come. You must be prepared for a complex and time consuming operation if you want to do everything your self. You can significantly ease the burden by using a professional group organizer. They can help to deal with these problems on your behalf. Depending on which company you go with and what you have agreed with them. If you want them to do everything then you should expect to pay a little extra. But this would free you up to do other tasks that might other wise be more costly to you by ignoring them.

Raising finance and fundraising
Ok, if your group is going on a stag do then no one is going to give charitably to support your drunken antics! If you’re a corporation organizing group travel, then the only way you are going to get some one else to pay for it will be if you offer commercial benefits to them.

With most groups though there is a multitude of ways to raise finance for your group travel. You can organize generic events, fun days or organize something based on what your group does. General events and fun days could include: – sponsored marathon/competition, Car washing at a local supermarket or School, Coffee morning for you local retirement home, put on a disco, create a night out, or organize an Easter egg hunt. The list is really only limited by your imagination. Also you should try organizing something that relates to what your group does. If you are an orchestra then organize concerts for your local community. You can quite quickly raise the money you need for your trip; all it takes is a little enthusiasm and it can be lots of fun.

The thing people are most reluctant to do is part with their money. At the early stages it is important that you collect a deposit from every group member who has confirmed they are coming on the trip. With out this there is no commitment or incentive for them not to drop out at the last second and this could be embarrassing. By doing this, your trip will become far more manageable. You should make your members aware that the final amount due may be liable to change slightly if group members drop out or new ones join. A coach booked at £400 divided by 30 people is going to cost more per person than dividing the cost between 40 people. You will normally find that quotes are given in price bands as group travel operators will be aware the people may drop out or you may get additional travelers. You must also make people aware of cancellation cut off dates. Normally if you cancel with a hotel within 30 days prior to departure you will be liable to pay the full amount.

Law and the package travel directive
There have been changes in the Law relatively recently that you need to be aware of. If a consumer purchases more than one travel component, it is considered a package. As such, you must place this money into a trust account and cannot access the money until your group members have traveled. This applies to all non regular group travel organizers. However the definition of what is non regular is not clearly defined and has not been tested in court yet. To avoid the risk of breaking the law on this matter it can be easier to use a professional group travel organizer who already has systems in place to deal with the travel package directive.

Industry bodies
If you do use a professional group travel organizer you should look to see that they are a member GTOA (Group Travel Organizers Association) or the ETOA (European Tour Operators Association) if you plan on making a European trip.

Travel Insurance
As a group travel organizer or initiator for your group you will be viewed as responsible for everything that happens to your group members. Unfortunately from time to time things won’t go quite as planned. You must there for ensure you and your group members are protected against such instances. This is especially true with school and youth groups. Often travel insurance is not that expensive and it can be a legal requirement in many situations.

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