Summer Review Part 2 - Travel Disruptors

Episode #35 of NAVIGATE covers the events that impacted 2023 summer travel.


Hi, welcome to NAVIGATE. I’m your host, Declan McDermott. I’m the operations manager in our London Command Centre. And joining me today is our security intelligence lead, Paul Trotter. Hi, Paul. Thanks for joining us today.



Hey, Declan. Thanks for having me.



Last month, we spoke about the summer travel season and what impacts travellers saw and felt with that being the first proper summer off the COVID. And then I’m sure you remember that this led to further conversations surrounding the other impacts such as political developments and natural disasters, but we didn’t really get a chance to dig down into that. So we thought it would be a good idea to circle back to cover some of those events today.

So I just wondered whether you wanted to maybe give a overview of those issues that occurred over the summer, you know, the wildfires, there were coups, there were riots, there were many political developments, and what impacts those had on travel?



Yeah, well, what a summer, it was quite a long one for those in assistance. We had quite a few natural disasters around the world or natural events around the world, everything from fires and floods in Europe, nearly at the same time, fires in North America, in Hawaii these were quite large scale events. The impact that was felt by travellers was everything from not wanting to travel to that destination, or being unable to travel to those destinations, because of access to airports, train stations, those kind of things. But at the same time, we obviously also had travellers within those destinations, whose holidays or travels were impacted as well. A couple of good examples of this were people of having to move their accommodation and little annoying things like that right through to actually being severed from the airport, unable to get home, which, you know, for a lot of people seems like quite the pleasant experience really being stuck on holiday and not being able to come home. But the reality is for these people, they’ve got lives, jobs and everything else they need to get back to, particularly in the post-Covid environment, we’ve seen a bit of anxiety as well around being severed from the airport or not being able to return. Generally every time that is something that could impact your ability to move, ability to travel, we get a lot of calls, a lot of requests for assistance, people looking for advice, asking how am I going to get out what’s the best method and coming up with its solutions on their own as well as seeking advice from the professionals as well.



Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? It’s such a tough one to plan for, because quite often these especially I suppose the natural disasters, they’re just popping up out of nowhere. How do people like yourself – security intelligence professionals – have assess and monitor potential travel disruptors? Maybe not so much like the wildfires because they can be so random, but maybe regards to political instability?



Yeah, so the natural environment stuff really is seasonal to an extent so we can sort of predict when those kinds of things are happening. And much the same way things like political activity, or political unrest, can be quite seasonal, as well. And in the sense that we know when elections are happening, we know when certain contentious votes are happening, those kind of thing. When we look at political unrest, we sort of define it as political unrest, civil unrest, and then societal or issue motivated unrest. So to quantify those political unrest things that are related to protests and those kinds of things. Civil unrest is more towards what we saw in France with the protests following the police shooting. And then issue motivated stuff is very much the climate change and those kinds of things that don’t really tend to be particularly violent, but they are extremely disruptive, particularly to travel, especially when we’re talking about things like climate change, blocking roads, limiting access to certain facilities, and those kind of things is something that we see quite a lot. So when we’re looking at how we’re going to assess the risk, we naturally look at the kinetic or the physical security risks. But we also look at the disruption as well, and how is that going to impact someone’s ability to get in-get out, as well as things like how am I going to access the airport? How am I going to access hospitals, those kinds of secondary impacts that people often don’t think about. You can be limited from the airport and that’s, you know, an annoyance, more than anything else, really. But if you can’t get to a hospital, when you’re injured, your wife’s giving birth, whatever it happens to be, you can quite quickly go down a very rapidly deteriorating situation.



Yeah, and I think we spoke in the last episode didn’t we about the infrastructure not being fully back to where it’s supposed to be. And if you then include a wildfire or a flood into that mix, when you’ve already got a reduced staff force and that staff was able to get to work and then you managed to get to a facility and then suddenly, they’re not running at full capacity that can be an even bigger disrupter to the whole situation that’s happening now. Can you share any specific examples of how WTP have successfully responded to and managed some of the travel disruptions over the summer?



Sure, we’ve worked with everyone from leisure travellers to corporate travellers over the period. Some of them have been in the everyday expected crises, which may seem benign to a lot of people. But for that individual, it’s the worst thing that’s happened to them. And that’s completely understandable. You know, whether it’s a holiday, their business trip, it’s quite disruptive, to have your passport stolen, your wallet, stolen, whatever it is. So we’ve gone right from that level. And that can be as simple as advising someone on how they can access funds without a credit card or facilitating a hotel for them for a few nights until they get sorted out through to sort of the more complex stuff when people have been victims of crime, violent crime. And then stepping forward again, we’ve had quite a number of people that have been caught up in things like politically motivated violence and civil unrest, including military coups around the world. So when we deal with those kinds of major incidents, it’s very much an all hands on deck relying on the experience of not only the security team, but also our operations team, medical team as well, in understanding what it is that that traveller needs, and how we can best apply that to ensure their safety and help them get out safely and unharmed.



For me being in operations, I see that that’s where we all come together. And when something big blows up like that, that everybody pulls in one direction to try and get the best outcome for that customer, whether they’re a leisure customer, or whether they’re corporate customer. Going into those situations, with the assistance and intelligence from your side, understanding what the situation on the ground is like, for example, and then having direction from yourselves about what the next steps are, and then going on and taking those next steps. And whether there’s just a purely operational and logistical element to that or whether we then need to loop in the medical staff that we have here to create a tripartite solution for that customer. That’s where it works. And that’s where you really see all of those parts playing as cogs together in the solution for the customer.



Yeah, absolutely. It’s something that I think really highlights the value in having an assistance provider, particularly for corporate travellers. We talk often about how it’s an uncertain world, but there are professionals who are more than capable of providing advice, providing recommendations, helping you with the risk assessment, then stepping through what we’re going to do if x major event happens. And as you said, these are things that we’re already looking at, we’re already sort of determining possible outcomes, and what we need to do to respond to them. And that’s something that corporate travellers can really benefit from when they talk with an organisation like World Travel Protection in understanding what their risk exposure is, but also help planning those contingency plans for the worst case scenario.



So let’s dig into that a little bit, then. So these travellers and these travel companies, how can they stay informed, and I suppose better prepare themselves for these potential travel disruptions, that when they go into areas that are prone to political instability, or natural disasters?



So when we look at the risks posed to a traveler, we always look at that traveler alongside the destination they’re going to and what they’re actually going there to achieve as well – we don’t look at them in isolation. If you consider an 18 year old girl who’s never traveled before, basis, very different risks to a 35 year old man who’s travelled every month, his entire life. So we look at that traveller, but we also look at what the destination is like, where they’re going to, how the activity that they’re going to be undertaking is perceived in that destination, and what risks are associated with that activity as well. So we would look at things like political instability, whether there’s upcoming elections and those kinds of things, whether there are any subjects that are coming up more and more in terms of issue motivated protests and those kinds of things. And that’s something that organisations need to be looking at as well for their travellers. Quite often, we’ll see risk assessments that focus on the really obvious stuff, whether it be the risk of an active shooter, or terrorism or something like that. But they don’t factor in the risk of motor vehicle accident when that traveller has to go six kilometres after their flight lands to reach their place of work. Similarly, they don’t look at the environment, as it is, or will be when that traveller arrives. They look at it, sort of in a glass case, almost, you know, in isolation without considering the upcoming events, whether it be political stuff, whether it be holidays. A really good example of this was when we were trying to assist a traveller in Italy, who was unable to get access to police because an election was happening and the police had to be providing security for that. So as a result, she couldn’t access it. So being aware of those kinds of things and actually understanding the environment but also how that environment impacts on you and you impact on the environment is really important in appreciate the risk in its full entirety. And then from that being able to develop appropriate mitigation strategies, and also being able to sort of prepare yourself if anything does go wrong through contingency planning and those kinds of things.



Yeah, I think our customers are in a good situation where they are entitled to whether it’s a phone call, or whether it’s just an email, you know, a pre travel briefing before they travel to a destination, to give them as much of a heads up as possible about possible natural, travel, political, economic, there’s a whole host of potential risks out there for a traveller, and I think you’d said in your last episode, it’s not about being alarmed, be alert, something along those lines. And that was something that I took away. This is about being informed before you go somewhere not to be terrified of the place that you’re going to, but to be more better prepared and to be safer when you’re there.



Yeah, absolutely. It’s something that a lot of people don’t really appreciate that we’re not here to say you can’t travel or turn you off the idea of travelling. All we’re trying to achieve is that you are informed and you are aware of what’s happening around you, or will be happening around you in a destination and how to stay safe. One of the main things that we talk about a lot within the security team is being facilitators of travel and ensuring that people can keep moving. So even in those crisis events that we’ve talked about, if there’s no need to evacuate someone, and we could degrade the risk to that person, by mitigation strategies, or moving them to a different area, and enable them to keep on with their travel, then that’s what we’ll try to achieve every day of the week. We try to avoid evacuation, not in the sense that we’ll put someone in danger because we don’t want to do it. But because we want to enable them at all times and enable their operations if they’re a corporate travel, or just ensure that that person hasn’t just waited the last couple of years of COVID, only to not be able to conclude their holiday because something minor to drastic has happened.



Yeah, it’s an interesting land out there to try and traverse at the moment. And it’s really important, I think, for people to be aware of the situations that they’re going into. And therefore I think roles like yours, and like ours with our operations team delivering some of those security briefings, really enable the customer to stay as safe as they can.



It’s something that we really do like to hammer home a lot, but we can have all the information in the world. But if we aren’t supplying it to the traveller, we aren’t getting it in the hands of the people who actually need it to facilitate that decision making, then there is absolutely no point having the information. Everything that we try to do is actionable. It’s something that enables decisions, as I said, and the whole point at the end of the day is to keep someone safe. So if we know, the operations team don’t have that information to pass on, then it’s completely useless information.



Finally, what advice do you have for travellers to ensure their safety and security while still being able to enjoy themselves in a increasingly unpredictable world?



It’s not much different from what I said last episode, being aware of the environment is always going to be the most relevant piece of advice that you can give to anyone. Whether that is understanding the crimes and the common scams, like we talked about last time, or whether it’s understanding, this is typhoon season in the Philippines or there is an election coming up in Somalia, you know, whatever it happens to be wherever that traveller is going. There’s always going to be upcoming events. And people need to understand what those events are and how they impact on them. If I’m going to the UAE, I need to understand how Ramadan is going to affect me, in every sense of the word. Not just what I need to be aware of to be culturally sensitive, but also things like, am I going to be able to buy things in the shops? Is it okay for me to do certain things in the street? How will that impact my ability to get to a hospital? All of that kind of stuff really does start at understanding the upcoming calendar, what period of the year in the seasons and those kinds of things. And it’s something was just a Google away. It’s not information that’s particularly secretive or held by some expert. It’s something that everybody can access. They just need to start basically.



Yeah, I think even though you know, I’ve worked in travel assistance for a decent amount of time now – the advice that I’ve had over these three episodes from Kay and yourself, it certainly made me travel differently. I think I said in my last episode that I’ll be using some of your tips on my next trip. Actually I only went to Norfolk on the east coast of England, so there wasn’t too many political situations or natural disasters going on there. But I am planning to go into Europe in the new year. And so I think like I said last time being aware of the place that I’m going to, and the potential risks and being able to tap into the knowledge of people about yourself and Kate and the others in the security team is invaluable resource. And it’s something that I appreciate. And I know that our customers appreciate, I know that there’s been advice provided from yourselves to some of our customers out in the world at the moment that has been greatly received. And we’ve even had mentioned that the advice that we’ve provided that’s come from your security team has been more useful and more informative than the information that they’re actually getting on the ground. So I think that really speaks testament to the type of service that your team can provide to our customers. So yeah, I suppose I’d just like to finish on thanking you again, for your time Paul. It’s been another really interesting episode. It’s been good to take a deeper dive into the summer travel disruptions that we saw, but looking at it from a slightly different angle and through a different lens. So yeah, thank you for your time.

Looking for the best travel podcast to inspire your upcoming adventures whilst also helping you travel smarter? Listen to NAVIGATE the top travel podcast that enhances the way you explore the world found on our world travel site under our travel assist hub. In each episode, our World Travel Protection host speaks with the travel industry expert or experienced everyday traveller to bring new thought provoking travel insights, experiences and advice helping empower you to travel the world confidently. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts, always catch our latest episode. This is actually the last episode of the year. So I’d like to thank you for all of your help on these podcasts this year, Paul, thanks for today’s episode. And thanks everybody for listening. Goodbye and safe travels.


Earlier in the year, we shared our summer travel trends predictions and this episode circles back to see what we got right vs what surprised us.

Operations Manager, Declan McDermott, and Intelligence Lead, Paul Trotter, look back on the top travel disruptors that our operations teams supported and compare assistance case figures in 2023 compared to pre-COVID numbers.

From organised scams to unnecessary mistakes, we cover what impacted leisure and business travellers alike. Paul also shares what you can do before your next trip to mitigate risk and avoid similar disruptors.

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Summer Review Part 2 – Travel Disruptors

Part 2 expands the discussion beyond travel trends to cover what other big events impacted travel this season.
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Summer Review Part 1 – Travel Trends

We circle back to see which travel trends and predictions we got right vs what surprised us this year.
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Safe and Sound Part 3: Planning for the “What Ifs”

CMO Dr Luke Banks covers the importance of planning for the 'what ifs' when travelling.

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