Travelling into Africa
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Africa has seen tremendous business investment over the past few years and the continent is now offering fantastic developments, reliable transport and great infrastructure in several countries. As interest and foreign direct investment into the continent grows, so too does the amount of travel.

But, do you know how to keep your travellers safe when they are travelling into Africa?

According to International SOS’ Travel Risk Map for 2017, almost three quarters of travellers say that travel risk has increased over the past year, and Africa is no different with 24% of travellers saying they feel that the risk to travellers into Sub Saharan Africa has increased.

We chatted to Paul O’Brien, the Security Director (Africa) for International SOS and Control Risks, to get his advice on how to keep travellers safe. He told us that the simple truth is that you cannot have just one measure for safety in Africa. “Many people still see Africa as one country with one set of rules. However, Africa consists of 54 different countries. There’s a great diversity, even from a security point of view.”

Paul cites the difference between Namibia and Somalia as an example. “These are two very different countries, so the advice for these countries will be vastly different as well. If you travel into South Central Somalia, you could be entering a warzone, whereas Namibia is a very stable and peaceful country, albeit risks still exist.”

Preparation is key

 “Every country you will be travelling to is different. It is key that you understand the environment and trends at the location to which you are travelling,” explains Paul.

Although the Internet can be a great source of information, Paul advises that you should chat to local contacts at your destination. “They usually have a good understanding of what is going on. They are in a good position to provide an overview and provide awareness of what is happening on the ground,” he says.

Paul explains that the Johannesburg CBD for example is considered a high-risk zone, but the suburbs surrounding Johannesburg are lower risk. “A foreigner coming to South Africa without an understanding of the country might choose to stay in the CBD, as he or she would in any other country in the world. However, in Johannesburg, most of the businesses operate outside the CBD. It’s important to be aware of those nuances.”

Besides being informed about the best locations, it is also important to keep up-to-date with the do’s and don’ts in the country your clients are visiting. “Besides safety do’s and don’ts, travellers should also be aware of cultural differences. Although these are not as prominent in Africa, for instance in the Middle East, they do still exist.”

Have on-the-ground representation

 Although most information is available online, it is crucial to have someone on the ground to provide reliable and up-to-date feedback both for the trip preparation and in the event that something goes wrong. Current information is crucial, as internet content can be dated and inaccurate.

“Having someone on the ground is crucial in order to learn about the environment to which you are travelling. Also in the event that something goes wrong, it is important to have someone on the ground to whom the traveller can reach out.”

If the company doesn’t have reliable on-the-ground representation, companies such as International SOS can offer help. “We have reliable and competent security providers on the ground all over Africa. We also liaise with government departments throughout Africa, and have a team of security analysts that stay on top of current affairs and events and communicate any possible risks.”

Don’t forget about technology

Technology has revolutionised duty of care when travelling. Says Paul: “International SOS has definitely made great progress when it comes to itinerary and personal tracking. When travellers are going to remote or high risk locations, it is important to be able to track them.”

International SOS offers TravelTracker, an integrated travel tracking service. This service delivers travellers and travel managers with pre-departure travel information as well as the option to quickly find and communicate with travellers. In an emergency, travel managers or travel agents can find their travellers quickly with a few mouse clicks. Once located, you can mail or text them guidance or just confirm that all is well.

During the South Sudan crisis last year, which saw five government soldiers killed in a checkpoint shootout in Juba on July 8, International SOS immediately issued a special advisory to all members advising them to stand fast in Juba. When hostilities persisted, International SOS organised 6 aircrafts to evacuate or relocate 212 members.

Through the TravelTracker service, International SOS was able to identify which clients had employees in South Sudan, and in the subsequent days, the 24-hour Assistance Centre in Dubai managed over 500 client inquiries, providing minute-by-minute updates.