International SOS: Advice for businesswomen travelling across the globe


When we think of travel risks we tend to imagine plane crashes or terrorist attacks. Such events are reasonably rare. The most common risks to travellers are opportunistic crime and traffic accidents.

These can happen anywhere and at any time.

For those of you who work in oil & gas industry, it is important to remember that the industry is often located in less salubrious parts of the world where opportunistic crime could be an even greater problem than in mainstream business and tourism centres.

In the case of crime, women are often perceived to be “easier” targets as it can be easier to snatch a handbag than pickpocket a wallet. A snatched handbag means losing money, credit cards, ID, travel documents and more. Also, women are more likely than men to be victims of sexual harassment or worse.

Recognising this, International SOS offers specific advice to women travellers to help mitigate these risks. We hold our travel safety webinars and recently launched an eLearning module specifically for women. We also hold in-person training courses on this topic.

Training for women travellers focuses on five key rules:

Know your personal profile

Understand that if you are a Caucasian visiting China or the Middle East you will stand out, no matter how you dress. An Iranian woman may feel equally out of place in some areas of Australia wearing a chador or hijab.

Research the destination ahead of time

Understanding the culture of a place is important too. In Malaysia for example, Muslim men may not shake hands with women. Knowing that helps you understand and feel at ease. Similarly, know what outfit is acceptable and stay on the side of being conservative.

Be a hard target

Stay on guard throughout your trip. Incidents often occur in places we feel safe in and know well. It is easy to let your guard down. It is all about mitigating the risks by acting sensibly. If you think you are being followed, seek help. Go into the nearest shop or hotel and seek assistance. Blend in and leave expensive jewellery at home.

Be confident and assertive

Limit unwanted attention by appearing self-assured. Do not stand looking lost holding a tourist map. Look as if you know your way around. In conversation, mention the presence of a boyfriend or husband and consider wearing a fake or real wedding ring.

Stay calm

If your bag is snatched, let it go. It is better to lose the bag than get injured in a struggle. Make sure you have packed only the essentials for the day and have back-up versions of all important documents.

That way the loss is more manageable. If a weapon is threatened, a non-confrontational response is likely to be the best option.

If an incident does occur, International SOS is there to help. Call one of our Assistance Centres and we can arrange any support needed. We advise on how to replace documents and cancel credit cards. We can arrange money transfers too. We are here to help in any way we can.

Ideally, by following our travel advice, such incidents can be averted or the impact minimised.

Both men and women are exposed to risks. It is important that companies recognise this and implement policies and procedures accordingly.

Fely Bowen is regional security manager at International SOS