Two major professional organizations for corporate travel managers hit a patch of bad luck last week.
The National Business Travel Association and the International Business Travel Association held their first joint international conference in Hamburg, Germany -- just as worry over the safety of traveling to that nation and all of Europe reached a crescendo because of hostilities in the Middle East. At the last minute, dozens who planned to attend canceled.
But security experts say the Hamburg delegates, like any other travelers, could have taken numerous steps to keep themselves out of harm's way.
By exercising common sense and following certain procedures, travelers can greatly reduce the risk of being victimized by terrorism or more common dangers, such as robbery or accidents, while away from home, the authorities say.
"Everyone has been --ing around saying the sky is falling and getting everyone hyped up," said John Bedrosian, director of international risk forecasting for Wackenhut Corp., the nation's biggest security firm.
"We say, 'Let's put it in perspective. It's not time to put on your helmet and your flak jacket and get in the bunker.' "
Regular commercial travel to the Mideast obviously is not taking place. Flying in the region had become so risky that the cost of insurance and concern about safety of the air lanes forced most airlines to cancel flights until the fighting abates.
Some security advisers also were cautioning against traveling to Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia, and some companies were telling employees to embark only on trips that were absolutely essential.
Paul Chamberlain International, a Beverly Hills investigative and executive-protection firm, advised its clients to postpone travel to the Mideast, Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia. But Executive Vice President Herb Clough, a former FBI agent, said the firm saw "no reason to defer business or pleasure travel within the United States at this time."
NB For those who decide that it is necessary to go abroad, Clough
and other security counselors added this advice:
* If possible, use airlines of countries that are neutral in the Mideast conflict.
* Don't carry identification that would link you with the U.S. government, the U.S. military or Jewish organizations.
* Register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the country you're visiting and ask for daily updates on security conditions.
Even before planning a trip, the first step toward assuring safety is to distinguish the characteristics among destinations and get the most up-to-date information on the potential danger of each one, the consultants said.
In the same way Americans know not to walk in certain neighborhoods at night, no one should willingly go to a country where war or other civil unrest is likely, they said.
The State Department dispenses free advice on the world's hot spots, although during times of worldwide tension -- such as now -- it may be difficult to get through by telephone. Besides noting potential threats of military or political actions, the warnings often include valuable health information, such as recent outbreaksof disease in a country.
According to Peter Savage, a Baltimore consultant and author of "The Safe Travel Book: A Guide for the International Traveler," other possible sources of information about a country's conditions are major banks that do business overseas; universities with foreign students, faculty members or other special connections to particular foreign countries, or businesses that trade with certain countries.
The consultants added that the security measures the Federal Aviation Administration ordered last week at U.S. airports might turn out to be more than steps temporarily imposed for the war's duration.
The airport-security measures are similar to those that have been in place for years in Europe and the Mideast. They include elimination of curbside check-in and the limiting of access to gate areas to ticketed passengers. Much heavier security also was clamped around aircraft ramps and aprons, where bombs theoretically could be smuggled onto planes.
And, just as Europeans have come to expect, if you leave a bag or package unattended in an airport lounge or other public place, security personnel might swoop down on it to search for a bomb, the consultants said.
"The public awareness of leaving a bag out in the open is coming in the U.S.," Savage said. "It's not there yet, but it's coming."
Even before the new measures, travelers could avoid delays at ticket counters and baggage check-in areas -- the most accessible parts of an airport for a terrorist, consultants said. Business travelers do it routinely by getting their boarding passes before they reach airports and taking only carry-on luggage.
In general, the security experts said, U.S. travelers are less likely than Europeans to experience terrorism in retaliation for the Mideast war, simply because of where they live. Europe has much more porous borders and a larger population of recent immigrants who might lend aid and comfort to would-be terrorists, they said.
"There is much more of a soup over there that these people can be in," said Wackenhut's Bedrosian, a retired State Department and CIA officer. "You don't have that here."