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Safer Travels: 5 tips to avoid being an easy target

Denise Balan, Head of U.S. Kidnap & Random at AXA XL gives her five top travel tips warning that kidnappings can happen to anyone; be aware, keep a low profile, don't advertise, get out of the routine and know who you're meeting.

09 Aug 2019

Who doesn’t love to travel? Not many according to travel industry statistics. Americans traveling for business and leisure took 2.3 billion domestic trips in 2018, according to the US Travel Association. 

Recent data from the US Commerce Department’s National Travel and Tourism Office, also suggests that more of us are traveling abroad. The number of US citizens traveling outside the country for business and leisure jumped by 6 percent last year, the agency determined, reaching a total of 93 million. Of those, 45 percent — or 41.8 million — flew to overseas destinations, 9 percent more than in 2018.

Europe had the highest numbers and saw the biggest gain, up more than 12 percent, though the data also includes travelers going through Europe to other destinations. Other big gains came from travelers heading to Oceania, South America, and Asia. An estimated 51.3 million Americans traveled either by air or car to Mexico and Canada, an increase of 4 percent.

Being risk aware

Traveling to new and unfamiliar places does come with risks, especially when there are others ready to take advantage of travelers who let their guard down.

Kidnappings, for instance, continue to rise in all parts of the world. In April, an American women and her guide kidnapped while touring one of Uganda’s most popular safari destinations. Both were freed after a ransom was paid by the safari company. Just recently, four Turkish nationals, construction workers, were kidnapped from a local bar in Nigeria’s Kwara region. They were released after a rescue mission by state police, local vigilantes and officers sent from Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Three kidnappers were said to be in custody.

While countries in Africa like Nigeria, Uganda as well as Kenya have seen an uptick in activity, Latin America remains the global hotspot for kidnappings. Kidnapping can be a lucrative business for some, but it is also spurred by changes in political and socio-economic conditions. Quite simply, a more volatile world breeds more opportunities for these incidents to occur.

While high profile, high net-worth individuals and organizations are favorite targets for kidnappers for large ransom demands, other criminals dabble in “express kidnapping,” preying on unlucky individuals to elicit a quick payout for their release.

(To read more about kidnapping trends and safety bulletins, visit S-RM’s Global Kidnapping Bulletin. S-RM is one of the world’s leading risk and intelligence consultancies. AXA XL partners with S-RM to help our clients deal with crisis situations like kidnapping, detentions, extortion and more.)

It can happen

Many organizations think “it can’t happen to us.” When traveling anywhere in the world today, complacency is the biggest mistake. Travel risks must be taken seriously. To avoid becoming a statistic, here are some tips for travelers:

  • Be aware. Situational awareness is a travel necessity. Be aware of your surroundings and on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.
  • Keep a low profile. It’s never a good idea to draw attention to yourself. Avoid blatant displays of wealth, like flashy jewelry or expensive clothes and accessories. Walk and talk with purpose and confidence, like you know where you are going. Speaking on a mobile phone loudly in public may reveal information to pique the interest of a kidnapper.
  • Don’t advertise. Kidnappers look for targets with potentially deep pockets. Using business cards for luggage identification is a giveaway that a traveler has an affiliation with a company or public agency that would be willing to pay a ransom quickly for the safe return of an employee.
  • Get out of the routine. Kidnappers love routines. It gives them the opportunity to determine the best time and place to carry out abduction. Aim to mix up your travel routines: switch routes, methods of transportation and time of travel.
  • Know who you’re meeting. Often executives have drivers lined up to meet them at airports to take them to their destinations. It is good practice to know in advance what your contracted driver looks like.

Even when careful precautions are taken, things can happen. To help when they do, prudent private and public entities buy kidnap, ransom and extortion (KRE) coverage. KRE Coverage is available as part of a corporate insurance portfolio or as a stand-alone policy for family protection or marine piracy protection. AXA XL offers a comprehensive, Kidnap, Ransom and Extortion (KRE) Crisis Policy. Covered incidents include not just kidnap-for-ransom, but extortion, hijack, wrongful detention, threat event, disappearance, express kidnap, hostage crisis, child abduction and assault.

One of the greatest benefits of procuring KRE coverage is the crisis management resources that come with it, especially the advance preparedness it offers. Policies provide crisis management services include training on how to react in the event of a kidnapping, review of an agency’s travel and safety protocols and access to a 24/7/365 dedicated crisis hotline.

Travel is a fact of life for most of us. And we enjoy it. Taking additional steps to maximize safety is not a guarantee that criminal behavior won’t befall travelers but following them may help make travelers a less-than-ideal target.

About the author
Denise Balan is head of US Security Risks for AXA XL, a division of AXA. Denise can be reached at

View original blog here.