With increasing global risk for travelers, it pays to be paranoid

Travelers still face COVID-19, despite President Biden to declare “The pandemic is over.” But they must also consider geopolitical risks in hot spots from Ukraine to the Middle East to the United States, often with effects felt far from fighting or natural disasters.

Global Guardian, a duty of care firm specializing in travel risk mitigation for Fortune 500 companies and high net worth individuals, has just released its Global risk assessment map 2023.

The color-coded map provides a new analysis of critical areas of geopolitical conflict. Map indicators include crime, health, natural disasters, infrastructure problems, political stability, civil unrest, and terrorism.

The map reveals the risks in Mexico, where drug-trafficking cartel disputes continue to spark violence, including in tourist areas. Thailand, India and the Philippines are rated as ‘medium risk’ due to their vulnerability to crime, sporadic unrest and ill-equipped to manage crises.

We spoke with Global Guardian CEO Dale Buckner about the new world of global risk for travelers.

Forbes: What is Global Guardian doing?

Buckner: We are a duty caregiver. We can track business and family travelers from their cell phone or satellite phone, so we know their location every ten minutes. We’ll provide you with a FedEx satellite phone if you’re cruising around the world. We also provide medical support and emergency response. We have over 6,000 employees and subsidiaries in 134 countries.

We evacuated 11,000 customers out of Ukraine and around 2,700 out of Russia when the war broke out. Silicon Valley is outsourced to Ukraine and Russia on a massive scale. When Hurricane Ian hit Florida, we had 17 teams ready to go, including armed officers to secure employees of our Fortune 500 customers. We made sure they were safe and had what they needed .

Forbes: Who are your customers?

Buckner: It’s about 65% businesses, 35% high-network individuals and families.

Forbes: How much do your services cost?

Buckner: It’s a membership model based on the number of people supported, plus fees for services such as medical evacuation, kidnapping coverage, etc. Subscriptions for a family of four start at $10,000.

We are more of a service provider as opposed to a travel insurance company. There is a service charge per person, per asset. We are not a compensated platform. Travelers should understand that there is a lot of fine print and exclusions on travel insurance. They will not provide you with service in times of war or during a natural disaster such as a tsunami.

We loaded six buses, each with 50 people, in Ukraine while missiles were exploding. We said we would, and we did, but the customer has to indemnify us, sign a waiver saying they understand the risks.

Forbes: What do you consider a geopolitical risk?

Buckner: There are now two to five major geopolitical events every year. Many people, including CEOs, were shocked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But we didn’t quite understand 9/11, we didn’t quite understand the coup in Myanmar, we didn’t quite understand Afghanistan. Why should we be surprised that we didn’t get Ukraine right?

Risk maps are something Fortune 500 COOs and security managers need to review. It is not paranoid to say that we are decoupling from China. From Russia. We are studying a possible geopolitical decoupling. Previously, risk was a linear model based on crime, kidnapping and ransom, etc.

On our map, Taiwan is in green, it is very stable. But it finds itself in a geopolitical risk zone between itself, China and its Asian neighbors. There could be a hot war between the US and China in 3-5 years. Trade wars can become kinetic wars. Businesses without a plan can lose assets and billions of dollars.

Forbes: How do you help your clients deal with global risk?

Buckner: You have to isolate your people and your assets. Look at the conditions on the ground and the ability of the government to deal with the problem.

We helped 3,700 clients get out of the Caribbean in 2017 after the hurricane – there was no power, no food, etc. The next day they said “There is no light, no electricity, get me out of here!”

There’s a reason our business has grown 600% in the last five years.

Forbes: How can travelers manage risk if they can’t afford your services?

Buckner: For small businesses, an HR manager has to write rules. “You cannot go to a risk area alone. At least two men or women must travel together. Unable to take company phone or computer to Russia or China due to cyber security risks. It’s about setting policies, communicating those policies and training.

Access State Department risk maps. Taxis are called coyotes in Mexico City. They can be the eyes and ears of kidnappers and pay hotel porters.

Before going to Africa, you must read and understand the State Department’s warnings. Don’t stay in an Airbnb, don’t use a local taxi or Uber or Lyft. Stay in a western hotel. Use controlled cars and drivers. Above all, follow the two-person rule: do not travel alone.

You can relax these rules in developed countries. Don’t use Uber in Kenya, use it in Frankfurt.

Don’t get on a plane if you don’t know how you’ll get back in the event of a natural disaster or war.

Forbes: With the exception of the risk of freezing to death, the only low-risk countries on your map appear to be Canada, Iceland, and Greenland.

Buckner: The world isn’t getting any simpler. It has more threat and danger than ever before. Not just crime and terrorism, but cyber and geo-hazard. Your cyber threat is incredibly low in Argentina compared to your cyber risk in China.

On the map, the United States is yellow, moderate risk. Moderate risk countries include most of Europe, the United States and Australia. Countries classified as moderate risk are considered resilient. These countries are able to handle most crises and personal security threats quickly and effectively.

Forbes: But isn’t that misleading? The murder rate in many American cities is comparable to murder rates in the most violent countries. Statistical says that in 2022, Jamaica was the second most dangerous country in the world, with a homicide rate of 43.85 per 100,000. Tourist destinations, such as Trinidad, St. Kitts, Honduras and Belize, have all recorded more than 30 murders per 100,000 people.

The ten American cities with the highest murder rates include travel meccas like New Orleans, LA (40.6 murders per 100,000), Las Vegas, NV (31.4) Kansas City, MO (31.2), Memphis, TN (27.1) and Chicago, IL (24).

Buckner: We assume that our audience, like COOs and senior security executives, understands the nuance of what you just said.

We send 100 personalized alert emails per week. We have agents going in and out of Ukraine today. A lot of people from the tech sector are going back there. We warned these companies that it was too early. Until this war is over, it’s not over. After the last missile strikes, we have to evacuate their inhabitants again.

You might call us paranoid. But the world is changing fast. We are on a difficult path.

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