The biggest annoyance when traveling internationally these days isn't taking off your shoes in the security line or facing language barriers with an angry taxi driver. It's experiencing a travel delay that keeps you away from home longer than you anticipated or forgetting to write down the address and phone number of the hotel where you're staying so you can tell that angry cab driver where to go. Basically, it's forgetting to prepare for the unexpected.
And for international travelers in 2015, facing global medical or security threats should take precedence over researching that restaurant or golf course, because knowing threats and healthcare issues associated with countries and regions can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
The Ebola outbreak rocked international travel in 2014. Travelers in or near the region for business or leisure were on edge as the world's media spent countless hours covering the outbreak. Our company, International SOS, was involved in evacuating some personnel who had possible exposure to the virus, and we spent a great deal of time educating and preparing our clients on how to avoid exposure. But what will 2015 hold for travelers? Will the major travel threat be medical, or could it be security?
We forecast that Ebola will still be a significant issue in 2015. Infections in Liberia seem to be lowering, but the spread of infection has been significant in Sierra Leone. Travelers should heed the warnings of recent months and practice heightened vigilance, especially if traveling to rural areas or villages where medical treatment for the virus is limited.
But there is some good news from Africa for 2015. Healthcare is improving in 10 countries, including Ethiopia and Nigeria. Travelers in these countries should expect better medical care if they require it, and companies will see savings because they won't have to transport employees to other countries for medical services.
On the security front, the spread of global terrorism still remains high. That's why a key component to personal safety when traveling is intelligence - knowing the major threats in countries and cities where you will travel. International SOS has identified some countries or regions of concern for 2015. One in particular is Mexico, where social unrest connected to organized crime poses a threat of violence. While the country has worked to protect areas with high tourist activity, some of its largest cities where business travelers are likely to travel are at risk. Travelers should be especially aware and prepared when traveling to Mexico.
The crisis in the Ukraine and regional friction with Russia is also an area we continue to monitor. The destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 showed the world just how precarious the situation was, and airlines that had yet to do so are now much more attuned to routing flights in the region's airspace. However, there are still dangers to travelers on the ground, and companies sending employees to countries in the region should provide special instructions and be particularly vigilant in monitoring their whereabouts and activity.
Activity in Brazil continues to require regular monitoring. Though it will host the Olympics in 2016, unrest in the country, especially in its urban centers, poses a real threat to travelers. There were many protests leading up to the 2014 World Cup, and 2015 is likely to see similar activity. Also, Brazil has a high violent crime rate throughout the year, making it a key concern for both business and leisure travelers.
Finally, there are hotspots throughout the world that see regular threats to security. For example, militants in countries like Pakistan, the Philippines and Niger continue to pose threats to travelers. And whether it is protests in Hong Kong or the coming elections in Nigeria, U.S. travelers should keep their distance due to clashes between protestors and police.
Never before in the history of civilization have people been as free to travel the globe. Not only has technology allowed it, but it's reasonably economic. But great care must still be taken when traveling.
If you're traveling in 2015, I hope you'll be prepared for any surprising medical or security events. It's a great world with much to see and do, but one can never be too prepared to travel it. Though you should also be prepared for that angry taxi driver as well.