On announcing that the Collins Dictionary’s word of the year was Permacrisis – a word describing the feeling of living through a period of war, inflation, and political instability – Alex Beecroft, the Head of Collins Learning, stated that it “sums up just how truly awful 2022 has been for so many people“.
Looking back over the past year it is difficult to fault Beecroft, however, we also have to look towards the future and by all accounts it doesn’t look good.
December is traditionally the month in which all of the leading risk analysts, insurance companies and geopolitical intelligence specialists publish their forecasts. This year they are unanimous in forecasting ever greater challenges both in terms of existing situations and in terms of emerging crises.
Amongst the top risks are an increase in cyber attacks and cyber disruptions, climate change, geopolitical instability, and political violence.
While we are all more than familiar with these risks, the question is what relevance do they have in Travel Risk Management?
To answer this important question, this article will examine some of the top risk scenarios and put them into the context of Travel Risk Management concerns and critical issues.
While a detailed analysis is outside the scope of this article, a number of key concerns can be identified and thus raise attention as to the potential mitigation strategies that can be developed and implemented.
Cyber attacks and cyber disruptions
The difference between an attack and a disruption is often very slim, however, it is worth making a precise distinction. Unfortunately the Cyber community has very differing views on the precise definition of both one and the other.
For the purposes of a Travel Risk Manager we can define the two interruptions as a cyber attack as being a malicious act aimed at causing damage or holding a network to ransom while a cyber disruption, when not unintentional, is of less damage and is generally resolved in a short period of time.
Cyber experts also agree that a cyber disruption can on occasions be a demonstration of force or a test on the part of a malevolent player.
So how can a cyber incident affect our travel plans or impact the security of our travellers?
One extreme case would be an attack on Air Traffic Control (ATC) systems, either a direct intrusion aimed at putting the systems out of action or the cutting of electricity supplies to ATC infrastructure.
While it is unlikely that aeroplanes in flight would be at imminent risk, those landing or taking off at the moment of the attack or disruption would be particularly vulnerable.
At the very least the service disruption would cause huge backlogs and delays to air transport in the areas directly affected by the cyber incident.
A less dramatic example would be the disruption of an airport’s internal communications systems or its ability to process luggage.
Other areas that could be impacted are telecommunications networks, the energy sector, public transport, and the banking and financial sectors.
What are your contingency plans in the case of massive delays to air transport? What procedures do you have in place to deal with the inability to process a credit card while checking out of a hotel? How will your travellers communicate with you in the event of a telecoms blackout? These are only some of the questions that Travel Risk Managers should be asking themselves while considering the potential impact of cyber incidents.
When reasoning in terms of climate change, we all have our very own and oft diverse opinions. However, there are a number of considerations on which Travel Risk Managers will agree.
The most obvious is the risk of extreme or catastrophic weather events, for example violent and prolonged rainfall causing landslides or extreme snowfall impacing transport networks.
There are, however, some less obvious considerations such as the impact of drought on a country’s stability.
Drought can be the indirect cause of greater criminality when those fleeing the countryside for the large cities find that it is extremely difficult to integrate.
Drought causes food scarcity and impacts prices, in poorer nations this can lead to political violence when the nation’s government is not perceived as managing the crisis efficiently.
Again we have to ask ourselves what our risk exposure is and what we should do in order to minimise and manage it.
Do we have the necessary information that will allow us to understand the situations in the countries that we are working in and have we used that information to create specific scenarios that can be analysed in order to develop mitigation procedures?
While many argue that Geopolitics is a concept that belongs to other times, it is not in our interests to devote time to academic debate and therefore we should accept Geopolitical risk as meaning risks posed by events determined by international disruptors.
A vague, all inclusive definition but one that fits the purpose: geopolitical risk is any change that is the direct or indirect result of one or more states implementing specific actions that disrupt the status quo.
Wars and invasions are the most obvious examples, however, trade wars and economic warfare are also potential risks to our travellers.
Trade wars can raise tensions and create difficulties for those holding the passport of a nation perceived as an aggressor. Simply living in a similar country or working for a company based in a similar country can be enough to create problems.
Business travellers can be exposed to greater scrutiny while entering or exiting a country that perceives some form of tort in regards to their or their company’s nationality.
Scrutiny can also be extended to their movements and meetings while in the destination country.
In some cases scrutiny can become a far greater issue, arrests and state detentions are not uncommon due to the fact that they generally produce results.
What advice do we have for our travellers and what procedures do we have in place to assist them? What would we do in the case of a state detention or an unlawful arrest? Do we have legal support in loco,do we have a procedure in place to deal with the family and the media?
Unfortunately we are all very familiar with the risk of terrorist events, fortunately, apart from some specific scenarios, they are not on the rise.
Nevertheless we cannot ignore the threat and we certainly cannot afford the risk of falling into the trap of complacency therefore we must have procedures in place to train our people, mitigate the risk, and, in a worst case scenario, manage an incident.
While terrorism poses a series of very clear risks, less known and understood are the potential damages caused by other forms of political violence.
Rising poverty levels, ever greater inflation, food insecurity, and distrust of governments all combine to create popular dissatisfaction which can result in violent demonstrations or targeted attacks on specific assets or premises.
Practically all of the analysts agree that 2023 will see a considerable rise in political violence and therefore it is essential that we understand the risk and that we closely monitor countries and cities at risk.
Again we have to address the issue of training and procedures, what do we have in place, is it enough, is it updated, are we missing anything?
We also have to address the means by which we monitor emerging scenarios and our capability to interpret this information into a form that allows us to make the best decisions.
Travel Risk Management has always presented a series of challenges and over the years we have developed policies and procedures to deal with them. On many occasions these strategies have proven extremely robust and efficient, in other cases we have had to examine what needs to be improved.
What the coming year will present as the major challenge is our ability to closely monitor evolving scenarios and react in advance. We will have to review our procedures in accordance to a logic of ‘permacrisis’ and this will require time and dedication.
Fortunately dedication and commitment are not lacking, unfortunately, time is not on our side.