The number of women who travel for business is increasing and today women make up 45% of the corporate travel market. As women travel for business more often, they need to be adequately prepared to enable them to conduct business successfully and safely on behalf of their organisation.
The security risks that apply to all travellers also apply to women. Unfortunately criminals perceive women as easier targets for petty crime and are more susceptible to sexual harassment, sexual assault and handbag theft than men. However, this is not to say that there is nothing women can do about this.
International SOS, the world’s leading international healthcare, medical and security assistance company have identified 5 golden rules that can help women arrive safely when travelling for business.
Golden rule number 1: Know Yourself
All women are not the same and several factors can have an impact on your exposure to risks. Be sure to know your profile and how that profile may be perceived when you travel. Key areas to consider would be your: physical appearance, travel experience, personality type, language skills in relation to the destination you are travelling to, dress preference, and budget. Understanding your profile in relation to these traits can help you be more prepared for your travel and mitigate against unnecessary risks.
Golden rule number 2: Do your research
When travelling to a business destination do not make assumptions. Be diligent and do your research before you travel. Recommended research falls into three main categories; geography, culture, and security.
Know the geography of the city you are visiting and find answers to a few basic but key questions: how far away is your hotel from the airport and how far is your hotel from the office you are going to visit?
It is important to be aware of the cultural customs of your destination and also the status of women there. Do women hold positions in government? Is it appropriate to shake hands? A good rule that most women have probably learned from living in the Middle East is that men may not shake hands unless initiated by the woman.
Read up on the current events happening at your destination. This will inform you of recent developments that might impact your travel such as transportation strikes, political unrest or areas prone to violent crime. A good source for your research could be women living and working at your destination. If you know women at your destination, reach out to them before travelling and ask about security risks, culture, society and etiquette.
Golden Rule number 3: Don’t be an easy target
Careful and considered planning before you arrive at our destination can prevent you from being seen as an easy target. Plan your flights so that they are during daylight hours especially if you are going to be taking a taxi. If you can, book a car service to take you to and from the airport as well as to your meetings. Also make sure roaming is set up on your mobile phone and programme in key contact numbers such as the local police, your embassy, the hotel, and also the number of an alarm centre if you have access to one through your company. When at your hotel try to avoid being on the ground floor and having your room number said aloud.
With regards to food or drink be careful of spiking, even when at business events. In general try and avoid drinking alcohol in excess when in an unfamiliar environment. As far as transportation is concerned always use official taxis and avoid walking alone at night.
It is important to note that some cities offer resources designed specifically for women such as their own car on public transportation or even their own floor in hotels which are always safer. You should be aware of these resources if you do your research.
Golden Rule number 4: Be assertive
Walk with purpose and confidence, appearing unfamiliar or confused can make you a potential target. When you need to ask for directions ask a store owner or hotel clerk. Learn to say “no thank you” with confidence and most importantly always trust your instinct, if something does not feel right it probably isn’t.
Golden Rule number 5: Stay Calm in a crisis
Since women are statistically more prone to harassment, assault and hand bang theft it is important to know how to handle yourself in such situations. When dealing with verbal harassment don’t make eye contact and try to protect your personal space, if the situation escalates don’t be afraid to call attention to yourself, you will find people around you will come to your aid. If you experience a more serious assault such as armed robbery, try and stay controlled and quiet and most importantly comply with the attacker’s demands, give up your handbag or any valuable objects. It’s very important to remember that the attacker is unlikely to be in a rational state of mind.
Through doing your research you should also know who can help you at your destination after a crisis. If your organisation has a security process in place it is important to follow it. In your research you should know the standards and limitations of the local law enforcement as well as your embassy.
If you can, utilise an alarm centre which has access to both medical and security assistance. You should also have access to important information such the hotel address, and additional copies of your passport and visa documents in case the originals get stolen.
Being prepared and aware is key to mitigating risk while on business travel.