Global threats persist for road warriors, businesses in 2012

The new year will pose unprecedented challenges and risks for organizations worldwide, according to a new threat forecast.

“Broadly speaking, austerity and economic issues in Europe and elsewhere will be the threats that will most readily impact” business travelers and companies, said Bruce McIndoe, president of iJET International Inc, a travel risk management company based in Annapolis, Md.

“There will be a lot of disruption,” he said, “not necessarily bodily harm, but the social unrest will cause problems to medical, transportation and other infrastructure.”

In addition to the global economic crisis, civil unrest, political discontent, ethnic and racial disputes, high-level kidnappings and terrorist activity on multiple continents, and global health issues like Avian flu and the possible resurgence of endemic diseases like polio, will continue to impact businesses and organizations.  

“That threat is there. Everything is ripe for that to pop,” McIndoe said. “People need to think seriously about it and be prepared.”

McIndoe said 2011 was unprecedented because seven or eight countries were “toppled” and the economic meltdown in Europe were “significant events that we have not traditionally had to deal with.” Many of last year’s threats will continue and are expected to increase in frequency and severity next year.

iJET’s 2012 threat forecast outlines key events and issues that will impact global businesses; the report is meant to help them anticipate and prepare for crisis situations. The company provides intelligence to more than 500 multinational corporations and governments. This is the sixth year it has released a global risk prediction report, based on analysis of more than 50 subject matter experts across five continents.

How accurate were last year’s predictions?

“Probably seven of the 10 things we identified came to fruition,” McIndoe said. The 2011 threats that iJET and its regional analysts correctly predicted a year ago include: increased violence in Guatemala due to a surge in drug trafficking; more violence in Yemen; ongoing tensions in Lebanon; post-election violence in the Ivory Coast; and conflict between the U.S. and Pakistan in light of Pakistan’s apparent collusion with Afghan terrorists.

These threats had a direct impact on operations, assets and bottom lines for thousands of businesses, iJET said.

The Global Business Travel Association, a trade group for corporate travel managers and suppliers, conducted new research that has quantified the financial impact of major weather events on the business travel industry. According to the research, there would be an initial loss of about 514,000 trips and $606 million in spending due to storm-related cancellations. The total GDP loss for interrupted business trips would be about $675 million, the group reported.

In addition to the yearly forecasts, iJet also provides a series of other alerts to clients: a Monthly Intelligence Forecast, a  Daily Intelligence Briefing, and Real-time Alerts, on issues such as where it is safe to go in Mexico, updates about the bird flu or the most recent bombing in Pakistan. Some are geared to clients’ special interests or regions where business is conducted. 

On Wednesday the company sent a Real-time Alert via text, e-mail and other messaging systems, advising clients with staff in Washington that “unruly” protests by Occupy D.C. were taking place, cautioning them to avoid those areas: “Occupy protesters causing major traffic disruptions Dec. 7 along K Street in northwest Washington, DC, US,” the text message read.

“All we’re doing is helping companies prioritize,” McIndoe said. If a company is operating in 60 countries, iJET will provide intelligence on the 20 on which to focus. The bottom line is forecasts help “employees feel confident about their safety and enable businesses to service their clients,” he said.

The need for such forecasts may be increasing. 

The number of events that are thought to disrupt travel in or to risk areas now occur “roughly three times a week,” said Michael Steiner, executive vice president of Ovation Travel Group, a New York-based travel management company.

“We’ve been in that world for the past couple of years,” Steiner said. When there are potential threats to clients, due to political upheavals or natural disasters like the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Ovation pulls data from a number of third-party providers, which is aggregated and used to make business decisions. “Our goal is to establish risk, and then get them the data within the hour,” he said.

Until recently, large multinational companies expressed the most interest in risk management strategy, but in the last 12 months “more and more mid-size companies are interested in knowing where there folks are and taking responsibility for them,” Steiner said.

Global economic instability, iJet warns, will continue to be the primary engine for public uprisings, as seen by recent events like the Arab Spring, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, and civil unrest in countries like Chile and Greece.

iJET urges organizations and travelers to pay special attention to the following issues in 2012:

  • Arab Spring activities will not subside in 2012. In addition, Syrian protests, the bid for Palestinian statehood, and the U.S.’s decision to remove its troops from Iraq by year-end 2011 are among the events expected to drive ongoing instability across the region.
  • Ethnic and racial disputes will elevate globally. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant fervor, for example, are likely to intensify in many parts of Europe.
  • Elections and new political leadership in Iran, Egypt, China and Mexico, among others, will result in increased tensions and social discontent in those countries.
  • Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam will witness increasing political discontent and business disruptions as a result of the 2011 floods.
  • High-level kidnappings and terrorist activity will likely escalate in the Sahel region (i.e., Nigeria and the Sudan) and the Islamic Maghreb (i.e., Tunisia and Libya).
  • Global health issues will continue to impact businesses and organizations. Avian flu, the possible resurgence of endemic diseases like polio, and ongoing food shortages in developing nations may lead to humanitarian and disease crises.

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