Interest Pieces

COVID HAS FUNDAMENTALLY ALTERED INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL. Here’s what you need to know.

Ten changes business and academic travellers need to be aware of, from new ‘COVID culture’ to increases in theft and cybercrime

Business and academic travellers are navigating a changed world with new rules and societal norms because of COVID-19. With international travel from the UK due to resume on 17 May, World Travel Protection, one of the largest emergency assistance organisations in the world, advises ten changes for travellers to be aware of:

  1. Countries are Different 

The pandemic has changed the risk profile for many parts of the world. Even for seasoned travellers, a destination may be unrecognisable to how it was before and not just nationally, but possibly regionally too, depending on their COVID experience. Countries badly hit economically by COVID may be suspicious of foreign travellers, for instance, and travellers may also be more at risk than they were previously.

  1. Increased Risk of Theft

  COVID-19 has led to mass unemployment and restricted work opportunities globally, resulting in potentially desperate people looking for new ways to make ends meet. As travel slowly picks up, business travellers will stand-out, making them targets for theft. They should be.

  1. Cybercrime Pandemic

Cybercrime has soared 90% during the pandemic* and the ongoing confusion continues to fuel corruption and fraud. COVID-related scams include official-looking emails from fake health and government bodies asking for the compulsory submission of information and criminals posing online as WHO officials asking for personal details. Travellers are also at risk when using wi-fi hotspots, potentially giving away their own and their organisation’s data. Almost half (46%) of organisations** have had at least one employee download a malicious app onto their smartphone, tablet or laptop.

  1. COVID Rules

Travellers need to be up-to-date on the rules of the country they are visiting, which, as well as quarantine and COVID entry-testing requirements, also encompasses? knowledge of social distancing guidelines and mask-wearing. In the UK, for instance, most people do not wear masks outside but there are areas of the world where this is expected.

  1. COVID Culture

In addition to the official rules and regulations, travellers will be navigating a new ‘COVID culture’ with a raft of new etiquettes and social norms. For example, it is important to understand the impact COVID has had on a country’s day-to-day life, what is the death rate and the effect on the economy and people’s livelihoods? Also, is there an appetite from the local community to allow in foreigners? Business and academic travellers need to educate themselves on any new COVID-related customs to avoid causing offence or alarm to local people.

  1. Legislation – Understanding the ‘spirit of the law’ 

COVID has meant the introduction of a number of new laws in most countries from how we move around, socialise, and congregate, to the protective clothing we have to wear. However, the policing of these can be very different depending on an officer’s individual interpretation, and corrupt officers may be able to abuse these laws.

Understanding how people believe the ‘spirit of the law’ is enacted is essential for travellers wishing to avoid problems. It was widely reported, for instance, in January this year, that the police in a South East Asian country were making tourists not complying with the legal obligation to wear a mask in public do 50 press-ups as well as pay a small fine.  Amnesty International report a rise globally in heavy-handed tactics from the police, particularly for so-called ‘COVID-breach’ violations.

  1. Rapidly Changing Travel Restrictions

Travellers need to constantly monitor destinations as new COVID hot spots can emerge within hours, meaning that last-minute travel amendments may become the norm.

World Travel Protection had a recent case of a business traveller who was mid-flight when their destination country announced new quarantine measures for arrivals. If World Travel Protection had not contacted the traveller to stop them exiting the transit area they would have been detained for quarantine purposes. Instead, a connecting flight was arranged to their final destination.

  1. Medical Documentation

Travellers face a fluid and changing travelling environment, including variable travel bans, quarantine requirements for both arrival and return, pre-travel testing and an increased requirement for medical documentation to support travel across borders. Airlines may also interpret country rules differently. Furthermore, transiting, or coming from multiple countries, may require enhanced medical clearance for entry.

  1. Be Aware of Your Mental Health

Travellers facing strict controls on social interactions, perhaps limiting the usual winddown with colleagues at the end of the day, may increase levels of isolation and anxiety. Travellers are also more likely to feel stressed and concerned if they are faced with a possible extended separation from family and loved ones as a result of changing restrictions, travel plans and possible quarantine requirements.

  1. Potential Risk of Increased Radicalisation
In some jurisdictions, police resources have been redirected to support the COVID response, which has had an impact on their ability to monitor segments of the community who are at risk from being radicalised.

It is often these communities that have seen the more active and aggressive punitive actions associated with COVID policing. At-risk people who are being heavily policed, in the name of the pandemic, are forced indoors and online, where social monitoring and access to moderators is removed, and there is a real risk of radicalisation and the potential for further attacks.

Rodger Cook, Global Security Director, World Travel Protection, concludes with his top tips for safe business and academic travel in our COVID world: “When travel resumes, a different world awaits you. Do your due diligence and research on your destination before you leave so you are prepared. Consider all aspects of the trip, including any stopovers, and the implications should travel restrictions change. When you arrive, be aware of a country’s ‘COVID-journey’ and how it’s been impacted by COVID. What are the new rules in place? And make sure you act appropriately. Whilst there, it’s more important than ever to maintain a low profile, and ensure that your personal information and valuables are protected.”

He concludes: “A lot of organisations, particularly SMEs, and educational organisations, like universities, don’t necessarily have all the resources they need in-house to identify threats and make informed decisions that will enable travel to continue. World Travel Protection clients can access our digital Travel Assist Risk Management Portal and read up-to-the-minute information provided by our country analysts to incorporate into their risk-management processes. In addition to providing valuable information, World Travel Protection can also work with businesses and educational institutions to tailor risk assistance solutions to ensure the health and safety of its travelling workforce.


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