Business & VIP Travel Safety in China

While a lot of travel security and safety advice is generic in nature, different locations often have specific conditions that make them worthy of special mention. Our area of expertise is the Asia-Pacific region and we’ll be discussing several different countries in this area in the coming weeks. In this blog post we look at China and you can also hear us discuss it on the Wheels Up podcast over here.

The commentary is based on several visits to China, including cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan and Nanjing among others. Though they are all part of China, the diverse locations within the country also give exposure to the diverse cultures and languages that coexist within the nation.

First point to make is that Chinese people are very friendly by nature and have become very used to hosting visitors in the nation with more than 60 million inbound tourists staying each year (2015 stats).  As friendly as they are, it takes time to earn their trust so business travellers need to take this into account.

Before You Leave

You’ll hear us say time and time again that most travel concerns can and should be addressed before you leave for your destination.

The obvious consideration for most destinations are visa requirements. China has a fairly stringent process that normally takes time to work through. If you are travelling on business then make sure you apply for the correct visa type.  If the need is urgent they can turn a visa application around within 2 days but, as you’d expect, you pay a premium for this service.

For first time visitors you will only qualify for a single-entry or double-entry visa. On subsequent visits you may qualify for a multi-entry visa.

Arrival and Beyond

If you have connecting flights that you pick up in Shanghai or Beijing, note that both of these cities have two major airports with some distance between them. Your booking agent or travel manager should point this out when making the booking but check your itinerary to see which airports you are arriving and departing from as you may also need to arrange transport between them.

General Safety in China

Most cities in China are quite safe but keep in mind that due to censorship laws the media, and even social media, may not reflect the full story. On occasion, we’ve heard of violent crime happening while we were there but only through word of mouth as the incident was unreported in the media.

In general though, high levels of real-time surveillance probably help make parts of China safer than other parts of the world. This includes facial recognition software in a lot of circumstances so be aware that your movements will probably be traceable as you would have likely been scanned on entry. If you’re behaving above board though, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Cyber Safety in China

From a cyber safety point of view, China has some pretty sophisticated criminal syndicates so do your best to protect your digital information. Keep your devices off as much as possible (especially at airports as they are fertile hunting ground for hackers) and use a ‘burner phone’ within minimal data on it. If you have to go online, make use of a virtual private network (VPN – we’ll have a post and podcast episode on that soon).

Money Problems

Keep an eye out for counterfeit currency as tourists are the least qualified to spot it. The official currency includes a watermark of Chairman Mao on the side or edge of each note. You should also be able to feel the image of Chairman Mao as being raised relative to the rest of the note.

Taxis in China

We usually recommend a security driver for business travel but accept that many travelers prefer to use taxis. Most Chinese taxi drivers do not speak English so be well prepared. Ask the concierge at the hotel or someone from the meeting(s) you have attended to write down your destinations in Chinese. If you have multiple destinations in a day have them create a list so you can work through them.

Ask the concierge also for an approximate price so you know if you’re being ‘taken for a ride’ so to speak when it comes time to pay up. Most operators will use the meter but some may try to offer you a flat rate. Best to avoid these as the rate will be tipped in their favour. Where possible, ask them to put the meter on or have the  concierge at the hotel ask them for you.

Speaking of being taken for a ride, male travelers should beware of offers from your taxi driver to take you somewhere for ‘entertainment.’ If you find yourself on the seedy side of town, you could very well find yourself at the mercy of undesirables and facing a large cab fare to get you back to safety.

Intercity Travel in China

If you’re fortunate enough to travel via private jet in China you’ll be at an advantage, however be aware that flight windows can be very small. If you are slow getting out of the hotel or extend a meeting there’s a good chance you’ll miss your window and find yourself delayed unnecessarily. Make sure your team is in contact with the fixed base operator (FBO) and heed their warnings if they tell you the schedule is tight.

If a private jet is beyond your budget, consider rail for intercity travel. At more than 500 km/hour (300 mph) these are a swift and often more reliable means of getting around than air, especially considering that the military can often close airspace at random times.

Leisure Warnings

If you find yourself having some down time in China, be cautious of ‘students’ asking if they can share some tea with you so they can practice their English. Chances are they will lead you to a tea house that is charging exorbitant prices and giving them a kickback for bringing them there.

If contacts in China invite you out for a karaoke evening, be wary. Karaoke is often a front for something more seedy and you could well find yourself in a compromising situation. This can even extend to having your drink spiked and you being put into situations beyond your control. At worst it can involve you being relieved of your wallet or your hotel room being ransacked.

Food in China

It’s no secret that the Chinese have an appetite that goes beyond what most of us would eat at home. It’s no secret to the Chinese either so in most cases they will understand if you respectfully decline to eat a particular dish. Err on the side of caution because if whatever is on the menu isn’t so agreeable, it could compromise the success of your visit.

Hospitals

Most hospitals that a traveller might come into contact with in China are of a reasonable standard. Where possible though, we recommend using a private hospital if the choice is available and your insurance covers it. Our observation is that they tend to be better equipped and have more qualified staff than some of the state run facilities. As we’ve said in our post and podcast about travel in general, try to identify potential hospitals in advance where possible.

Businesslike Conduct

Corruption and fraud laws in China are similar to most countries but the consequences may be greater so be cautious about entering into any dodgy practices. Having said that, gifts are commonplace in Asian culture so don’t be afraid of giving or receiving these. Just ensure that the magnitude of the gift couldn’t be mistaken as a bribe or some other way of circumventing legitimate business dealings.

Cultural Respect

It goes without saying that China has much less freedom of speech than most of us enjoy. Don’t think that as a foreigner that you might be exempt from these rules. Be conscious of what you say to others and, if using social media, ensure that there’s nothing that might inflame local authorities. At best, you might put future visas at risk and at worst, you could find yourself in the confines of a local police cell. If you’re in their country, respect their laws, their customs, and their culture.

Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, China hosts more than 60 million tourists who stay overnight or longer each year. Most pass through without incident and most have an enjoyable time. Stick to the rules and follow the tips we’ve shared and you’ll likely find the same for your travels.

For additional pre-travel tips, sign up for our Business Travelers’ Essential Pre-Departure Travel and Security Checklist below.

 

* indicates required


Business Travelers’ Ground Travel and Post Travel Checklist

Business Travelers’ Ground Travel and Post Travel Checklist

In our last post we ran through the essentials that business travelers should cover before setting out on a journey. In this post, we run through the safety and security essentials for the “during” and “after/post journey” phase of your travels”

The content here is much less than that within the pre- travel section, which highlights the value in being prepared. If you spend some time in planning your journey and preparare before departing, then your travels will be safer. In the event that a risk presents itself, then you’ll be in a better position to respond to it.

You can also hear us discuss this part of the checklist on The Wheels Up Podcast and download our pdf of the infographic and checklist at the bottom of this page.

Ground Travel

  • Check your corporate travel policy for permissible options (If you don’t have a corporate travel policy, we can help with that)

  • Avoid rideshare services. They are currently less regulated than cabs and have fewer security features (e.g. cameras in the vehicle). In some countries, the vehicles can be of a very low standard, dangerous even (especially mopeds and scooters).

  • Touts – drivers offering services unsolicited within the airport (or on the street). Do not use these. They are unregulated and usually offering the service illegally.

  • Public transport. Avoid public transport where possible. Crowded areas are an attractive target for mass casualty attacks and petty crime.

  • Cabs. Use clearly marked cabs that have driver’s registration and ID on display and back-to-base communications. These will be regulated.

  • Security drivers (preferred option). Arrange this in advance. Vehicles and driver will be of a higher standard with security training and back-to-base communications. They can have the comforts of wifi, water and snacks on board. Have them use a predetermined code or alternate name on their welcome signage to keep your identity anonymous. (NB – If a proper security driver is not an option, you could also use a hotel provided car/limousine service.)

Restaurants/Cafes/Bars

  • Get referrals in advance from friends, colleagues or your travel manager.

  • Check with the hotel concierge on areas which are safe and those which are not.

  • Don’t risk sites that may have low hygiene standards (including roadside stands). Put it into a business perspective, you’ve travelled all this way to close a deal, you don’t want to be stuck in a bathroom with a bad bout of gastro and miss it.

Accommodation

  • If it hasn’t been arranged in advance, ask for a room on the 3rd, 4th or 5th floors. Upper level rooms may be great for getting a view but in the event of a fire, they may be out of reach of fire department equipment. 1st and 2nd floors are easy pickings for thieves.

  • Ask for a room away from the fire escape. Thieves prefer to work rooms near fire escapes for a quick exit if needed.

  • Latch your door and use and additional door stop or door jammer.

  • Hang the Do Not Disturb sign on your door, even if you aren’t in the room.

  • Arrange to have the room serviced while you are still in the room if you can.

When Things Go Bad (Riots, Terrorist Attacks, etc)

  • Avoid protests and large gatherings where possible

  • Move, Escape or Attack (Listen to the Wheels Up Podcast Episode 3 for a more detailed description.)

  • Turn your phone to silent. Use SMS text messages to communicate if safe.

  • Your personal safety is of primary importance – don’t stop to record or take photos. Listen and observe – you can report on this at a later stage.(e.g. descriptions of attackers or weapons, etc. may be helpful for authorities)

What To Do if Prompted for a Bribe By an Official

  • First and foremost, avoid this situations by all means

  • Pretend you don’t understand the request.

  • If you are travelling with local support or a security detail, have them address the situation.

  • Avoid making payments where possible but if and only if there is no there way out and payment must be made, ask for a receipt.

Local Culture and Customs

  • Check what gestures may be offensive where you are going (e.g. Thumbs up has a different meaning in parts of Africa. OK sign used Brazil is the same as giving someone the middle finger). This Daily Mail article has a pretty thorough summary.

  • Learn how to say hello, goodbye and thank you in the local language

After Your Travels

  • Check credit card and bank accounts for unusual amounts or unfamiliar charges on return.

  • Get medical checks at the first sign of feeling unwell

  • File an After Action report. Write or dictate and provide to your corporate travel and security department

    • Document any issues that arose and what went well on the journey

    • List  local contacts or recommendations that other travellers in the business could benefit from

  • Change all IT passwords that you have used while away (these may have been compromised while using other wifi services).

Enter your details below to access the Business Travel Safety and Security Check List as a printable pdf.

And for the pre-travel post, click here

Business Travel & Safety Check List

Securing Australia’s Commonwealth Games on The Gold Coast – Lessons from Rio

With attacks in Europe still haunting the public consciousness, security of the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast warrant close attention. Thus far, Australia appears to be prudently attending to these risks. In May of this year, Australian parliament passed an array of laws that give police the authority to search people and premises in specified areas.1 National security authorities also recently designed and implemented a strategy to protect crowded places from terror threats.2 The number of police, defence forces, and security personnel will outnumber athletes. As a part of the beefed-up security system, attendees will face airport-style screening. There will be fast-track lanes for people without bags, preventing the lines themselves from becoming too much of a target. Furthermore, Queensland Police and State Government have established Project Unite, a community safety campaign designed to deter, detect and disrupt criminal and terrorist activity prior to, during and after the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Queensland Police and State Government have established Project Unite, a community safety campaign designed to deter, detect and disrupt criminal and terrorist activity prior to, during and after the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Given the challenges that Rio faced in the run-up to and during the 2016 Summer Olympics, it is a useful place to look for ways to be maximally prepared. There is little arguing that security was a major problem throughout the Olympics which organisers at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games wish to avoid. Public authorities were ill-equipped to handle the rise in crime, due, in large part, to fiscal pressure from Brazil’s financial crisis. To protest their cut in compensation, police protested by welcoming tourists and athletes was signs announcing they would not be safe in Rio. In truth, police were foreshadowing the crises yet to come. Multiple athletes and coaches were robbed at gunpoint or knifepoint. Security of one of the main emergency hospitals for the Olympics was breached as armed criminals broke into the facility and freed a suspected drug lord only a month before the games. On the terror-fighting front, authorities blew up the clothing-filled suitcase of the mother of an athlete after erroneously suspecting that it contained a bomb.3

Nonetheless, it would be unfair to ignore the legitimate efforts of the country to ensure security. To mitigate the threat of independent terror attacks, the government deployed a large number of military personnel to Rio, which increased the total number of security personnel by roughly 30%.4 Despite Brazil not being commonly considered a prime terror target, the country’s national intelligence reported to have taken the terror threat seriously.5

Organisers of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games have dedicated an additional 3500 police officers from across the state to augment the already 1000 officers who will be policing the Gold Coast.

The challenges that Australia’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games is likely to face will differ considerably from those of Rio. For example, local and territorial violent criminal gangs are unlikely to be the problem for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games as it was for the Olympic site, although, there is still an element of organised crime gangs including outlaw motorcycle clubs operating in the area. Furthermore, the threat of terrorism is one, which is being taken seriously. Any large gathering of spectators or crowds becomes a potential target for armed offenders, active shooters, “lone wolfs”, religious and ideological threats and anyone looking to make any form of political statement. Organisers of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games have dedicated an additional 3500 police officers from across the state to augment the already 1000 officers who will be policing the Gold Coast. Nonetheless, authorities are developing a strategy to handle a diverse array of challenges by working with a broad network of security personnel from the public and private sectors. Strategically maintaining a role for private security firms, like local Gold Coast based Panoptic Solutions, will bring in expertise from local companies with extensive knowledge of the region and specialised security personnel, complementing and strengthening the efforts of the police and national security.

 

[1]http://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au/sport/commonwealth-games/gold-coast-2018-commonwealth-games-organisers-resolute-on-security-measures-after-manchester-attack/news-story/e9247570a8ab963276a43edeb840591e

https://www.police.qld.gov.au/commonwealthgames/howwill/sentinel/Project-UNITE.htm

[2]https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Securityandyourcommunity/Pages/australias-strategy-for-protecting-crowded-places-from-terrorism.aspx

[3]http://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/news/a62849/rio-2016-summer-olympics-security-fails-concerns/

[4]https://globalnews.ca/news/2861911/rio-2016-olympic-security-boosted-but-locals-wary-of-police-presence/

[5]https://www.google.co.th/search?q=RIo+olympics+vip+security&oq=RIo+olympics+vip+security&aqs=chrome..69i57.5615j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Business Travelers’ Essential Pre-Departure Travel and Security Checklist

For seasoned business travellers the notion of safety and security while travelling may seem like an unnecessary concern. Safety demonstrations by flight attendants are for the benefit of ‘others’ and, beyond that, all you need to worry about is keeping your belongings safe. Perhaps not.

That may be the perception – indeed 99% of travels do occur without mishap – however, the consequences of misadventure are serious enough to warrant a little preparation. Just as our seatbelts are redundant for the vast majority of our car travels, when we actually need them, we’re glad that we took the trouble to put them on.

With this in mind, here are some essential pre-travel requirements that most business, executive and VIP travellers should meet, or at least have someone delegated to take care of them. They aren’t onerous but they can be life saving or at least help you avoid or cope with misfortune should it arise.

If your business has a travel policy, now would be a good time to run through it to check that everything is covered in it. And if you don’t have a travel policy, now would be a good time to develop one. (If you need help with that, let me know).

We’ve put together a pdf checklist that you can download below and I’ve also covered this in more depth on this Wheels Up Podcast episode here. For now we’ll cover pre-departure essentials and I’ll cover the during and after travel essentials in a future post.

Visas

  • Ensure you have the right type of Visa. Apart from checking if you actually need a visa for the country you are travelling to, don’t be caught out by getting the wrong type. You might be tempted to cut corners (and costs) and get a tourist visa for a conference but in some countries, a conference requires a business visa.

Bookings (Flights, accommodation, transport)

  • Arrange these in advance wherever possible.
  • Check your company travel policy to see what it says about personnel all traveling on the same flight (e.g. you wouldn’t want your full board of directors on the same plane).

Passports

  • Ensure you have at least six months remaining on your passport. Some countries won’t allow you to travel into their country without that and obviously it can be a very long flight back home if you make that mistake.

Hotel

  • Check your company policy for hotel recommendations or criteria for hotels
  • Check the location of your proposed hotel from a security or risk perspective. e.g. choosing a hotel close to your meeting locations may also put you in a red light district.
  • Scope out the security levels of your proposed hotel (lower cost hotels typically have lower security. Look in the Trip Advisor comments sections for comments from visitors about security in general.
  • See if you can book a room on the 3rd, 4th or 5th floors. Upper level rooms may be great for getting a view but in the event of a fire, they are out of reach of fire department equipment. 1st and 2nd floors are easy pickings for thieves.
  • Ask for a room away from the fire escape. Thieves prefer to work rooms near fire escapes for a quick exit if needed.
  • Take a door stop with you for added security (or a ‘door jammer’).

Emergency Services

  • Scope out the locations of police stations and hospitals before you leave (much easier than doing so in an emergency). Check if your corporate travel policy or your travel insurance policy has any details of these.
  • Identify if a hospital is appropriate for your needs. e.g. If you have a heart condition does it have a cardiac unit? Not all hospitals have emergency units.

Embassies and Consulates

  • Find out the details of the embassy or consulate nearest your destination and carry these details on you. Makes them easier to find when needed and helps others get in touch with those important to you if you are out of action.
  • Check your country’s official travel website for travel warnings and local details (see the list in our pdf checklist or infographic below).
  • If offered, register your travel with your government travel registry.

Immunisations

  • Check immunisation requirements well in advance of travelling. Some immunizations require a certain timeframe to be administered before departure and others may not be readily available.
  • Consider visiting a doctor who specialises in travel medicine.

Medications

  • If you’re on medication to take enough to cover your trip plus a week.

Pack a “Grab Bag”

  • Small, nondescript bag. Backpack preferably. Strong and preferably with double stitching. Large enough for a laptop.
  • Torch/Flashlight. Doesn’t need to be large. I carry and recommend a Surefire torch. Apart from the obvious a bright torch can also be used to blind an attacker. Some torches can double as a phone charger.
  • Smoke hood.Covers head and face and filters smoky air. Keep one in the grab bag and one on the bedside table.
  • Permanent marker (Sharpie or similar). Handy to have. Can even use to write details on an injured person – name, vital signs, etc.
  • Individual/Immediate First Aid Kit – IFAK. Also get basic training on how to use these items.
    • Disposable gloves
    • Shears (strong but small)
    • Chest seal (used for sucking chest wounds)
    • Olaes bandage or Israeli bandage
    • Tourniquet
    • Nasopharyngeal (nose hose)
    • Medical tape
  • Bottle of water
  • Mobile phone charger
  • Documentation – photocopies of passport, license, visa, etc
  • Cash. Small amount in local currency

Dummy Wallet

  • Carry a spare wallet or purse with a small amount of cash ($10-12) and some expired or dummy credit cards (can use this to hand over to thieves if necessary).

Burner Phone

  • Depending on your destination, consider carrying a cheap phone with minimal to protect your data on your smartphone (protects you from hackers or thieves).

Travel Insurance

  • Check your policy for inclusions before engaging in activities (e.g. are you covered for riding on a scooter/moped).
  • Check with HR to ensure the company policy is adequate for your destination.

Enter your details below to access the Business Travel Safety and Security Check List as a printable pdf.

Part 2 of the Business Travelers’ Essential can be found here.

 

Australia’s new Airport Security Measures – What it means for travellers and airport workers alike

Australian airport security is recently facing strong pressure to change from two different angles: the extensive terror plot this summer and the US’s tighter security requirements. The terror attempt in August, involving an elaborate explosives scheme, has stirred up debate over transportation security among Australian politicians and government officials.  Malcolm Turnbull and the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, issued a joint statement on the government’s plan to enhance security. The measures are focused on airport workers, such as luggage handlers, as the terror plot revolved around sneaking explosives into luggage. Currently, Australia’s airport workers and their belongings are not screened for explosives or dangerous items.

The new measures will take place at the airports of Australia’s major cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, Cairns, the Gold Coast, and Hobart). All airport staff (Baggage handlers, caterers, engineers and maintenance staff) will face random testing for explosives. The efficacy of such efforts is questionable. These screenings are not regular and there is a possibility that they can be dodged.[1]

Passengers will be affected by other security enhancement measures in efforts to comply with tighter US security rules. All US-bound flights will require passengers to undergo short security interviews. This ‘passenger-vetting’ will help US-bound flights avoid an in-cabin ban on laptops.

Impact on Traveler’s and Airport Workers

For airport workers, the measures are unlikely to significantly impact their daily lives, though this is subject to change as the security debate evolves. These measures still fall far short of the security measures that US airport workers are required to undergo.[2]

It is travellers that will be especially impacted. The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development has said that new security measures will cause delays for travelers.[3]

US-bound travelers will face the greatest impact. To accommodate the short security interviews, airlines request passengers to arrive a full 3 hours before departure.[4] Additionally, conveniences provided by some airlines for frequent flyers will be scaled back.

For more information on travel safety and security click here. Panoptic Solutions Risk Management team can assist with all you travel security concerns.

For information on general travel advice talk to our team at Panoptic Corporate Travel

 

[1]https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/companies/new-airport-security-measures-for-workers-labelled-a-joke-20171022-gz5q3a.html

[2]https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/companies/new-airport-security-measures-for-workers-labelled-a-joke-20171022-gz5q3a.html

[3] http://travelsecure.infrastructure.gov.au/

[4] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/airlines-prepare-for-new-us-security-rules/news-story/b6817d3a6eac9681a1f7d9c3b0b4c0de