Companies tutor their employees on avoiding danger when traveling abroad

Business travel

August 03, 1992|By Tom Belden | Tom Belden,Knight-Ridder News Service

Even Robert R. Burke, the linebacker-sized director of corporate security for Monsanto Co. and a former Secret Service agent, occasionally makes a wrong turn.

The night before he was to speak to a group of corporate travel managers in San Francisco -- about security for business travelers no less -- Mr. Burke came out of a BART subway station in downtown San Francisco. Instead of turning up one street toward fashionable, well-lighted Union Square, he found himself headed into the high-crime Tenderloin district before he got his bearings.

Mr. Burke told the story to illustrate that even experienced travelers can find themselves in potentially dangerous or threatening situations in strange cities, especially overseas but even within their own country.

More and more, companies are becoming aware of the need to help educate employees about how to protect themselves on the road, from common criminals and from terrorists when traveling abroad.

For many businesses, the need to provide counsel on personal security has grown significantly in recent years because of the number of women traveling on business, Mr. Burke told the managers, who were attending a National Business Travel Association conference.

At Monsanto, about one-third of the chemical company's travelers are women, he said. That number is about average for female business travelers at companies nationwide.

Mr. Burke said one of the biggest problems he had found among business travelers was either complacency or, especially among men, a macho attitude that says, "I can take care of myself." That attitude, which can cause travelers to be less careful than they should be, also is growing more common among professional women, he said.

"I have something I call the Burke phenomenon," he said. "Travelers tend to believe that they are invulnerable or invisible when visiting a strange city. Therefore, they do things which they would not do in their hometowns," such as walking after dinner in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

International business travelers are especially vulnerable to danger after a long airplane flight, particularly if they are in a country they don't know well, Mr. Burke added. The fatigue and sleep deprivation caused by jet lag, plus strange sights, sounds, smells and customs, can add to disorientation and make victimization more likely, he said.

In parts of the world where criminals and terrorists are known to be a problem, many companies have found it useful to publish tips on self-protection.

Monsanto puts advice in an eight-page booklet that includes basic reminders about how to protect one's home and family. The booklet has the most detail for international travelers who might be targets because they work for a major U.S. company.

Among the suggestions from Monsanto for foreign travel:

* Always have an escort who is a native of the country being visited.

* Know how to use public phones, and learn key phrases in the native language so that you can communicate with the police if necessary.

* Carry phone numbers and home addresses of local representatives of your employer and of the nearest embassy or consulate.

* Don't carry documents or packages for anyone else, and protect your own important papers by storing them in a hotel safe.

* Make a photocopy of the first pages of your passport and keep it with your luggage; that will make the passport much easier to replace if it is lost or stolen.

* Carry no papers that identify a connection with the U.S. government or the military. Even a card that says you're an "honorary Kentucky colonel" could be misinterpreted by a terrorist.

In hotels, foreign and domestic, there are numerous common-sense things a traveler can do to be safer, Mr. Burke added. These are especially important for female travelers, he noted.

* Make sure you're staying in a reputable neighborhood.

* Always use the door peephole to see who's knocking before opening.

* Ask for an escort from a remote parking garage or parking lot after dark.

* If your expense account will allow it, stay on a "concierge" floor, where an attendant is always on duty.

*

Harried travelers rushing to catch an airplane can now drop off an automobile at Budget Rent a Car locations across the country without stopping at a rental counter. "Automatic Rapid Return" is free nationwide to anyone paying for a rental with a credit card.

When customers return a car to a rental location, they are met outside by a Budget representative with a hand-held computer that is connected by radio to the rental location's main computer. In less than a minute, the customer can get a copy of a completed rental agreement.

*

When American Airlines overhauled its fare structure in April, and other carriers followed, it was supposed to make pricing simpler.

But Official Airline Guides, which keeps track of fares and schedules worldwide, reported that airlines offered 2.8 million domestic airfares in June, up from 2.6 million in May. The total number of international and domestic fares was 5.2 million in June, about 130,000 more than in May.

On the other hand, maybe things are getting simpler. In June 1991, when airlines were trying to attract customers after the Persian Gulf war, OAG counted 3.6 million domestic fares and 6.4 million total international and domestic fares.

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