Tube or taxi? It’s not raining – so why don’t we just walk?
It turns out; that was the easiest question I had to face all day. I was in London, England on what I thought would be just another typical business trip. Several people from my firm were flying in to attend a conference in the Kensington area of London. I flew in ahead of my team with a colleague to attend some business meetings with local clients. Wanting to take advantage of the dry skies, my colleague and I decided to walk to our first meeting. What we encountered along the way and in the days that followed was anything but typical.
As we walked past the U.S. Embassy in the affluent Mayfair area in the West End of London, a small group of protesters approached us and asked us if we were Americans. Before I could say yes, they followed up their initial inquiry by asking us if we were for Trump or against him. I was not naïve to the fact that Donald Trump’s recent victory in the U.S. election had ignited global protests. However, I did not expect to be directly impacted, especially in London.
As a Security and Crisis Response Consultant, I understand the need to remain apolitical. I cannot take sides or give preferential treatment to either side of the aisle. So I responded by saying, “it’s a beautiful day outside, you all have a great day,” pretending to hear something completely different than what we were asked. Continuing to walk past the group with a purpose allowed us to put enough daylight between the protesters and us to avoid any further confrontation.
About 10 minutes later I received a call from one of my employees that had just cleared customs at London’s Heathrow Airport. He said that he probably would not make it to the meeting scheduled for later that day. A group of protesters chained themselves together on the train tracks leading out of Heathrow in protest to a possible visit by President Trump to the UK. The protest disrupted travel into and out of the airport. My employee went on to say that, “per our travel security policy, I’ve already contacted our GSOC (Global Security Operations Center) and informed them of what was going on.” I advised my employee to take a taxi and contact us once he settled in. He indicated that the GSOC was aware of the protest, had eyes on his location via our MyTrac app and also advised him to take a taxi to his hotel.
As a result of that conversation and the run-in with protesters earlier that morning, my colleague and I decided to take a cab to our next meeting. We were met by a local partner that was joining us for our next meeting. All in agreement, we hailed a taxi and off we went.
Along the way, our local partner, a UK citizen of Middle Eastern descent, struck up a conversation with the taxi driver. The taxi driver asked our partner where he was originally from. He replied that he was born in Lebanon, but grew up in Liverpool. The taxi driver then followed up by saying, “it sounds like you two are Americans.” I replied yes, and then asked him if he lived in London his whole life. Ignoring my question, the taxi driver then proceeded to say, “President Trump says not all Muslims are Terrorists, but all Terrorists are Muslims, and I believe him.”
At that point, the tension in the cab was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Sensing our partner’s frustration and not wanting the situation to get any worse, I told the cab driver that we were fine getting out at the next light. I then mentioned that we were off to a football match later that evening and asked him who he thought would win. I hoped that changing the subject would de-escalate the situation. It worked, and once we arrived at the intersection, I paid and quickly escorted my colleague and our partner out of the cab.
Political risk is often viewed as a destination-based issue, and not something that follows us from our home country. However, the situations we encountered that day and several times over the course of the week were stark reminders that security risks created by the political climate are not limited to the places we go. In fact, the political climate in our home country is just as likely to create security risks and have a direct impact on our safety while traveling abroad as it does at home.
In closing, whether you are traveling for business or leisure, we need to do our best to understand the destination-based travel risks that could impact us – before we travel. We also need to be ever mindful that the events playing out in our home country can and most likely will follow us to the destinations we visit. There are a plethora of other things you should take into consideration when planning to travel abroad. The overarching takeaway is to ensure you have a plan to address health, safety and security events that impact or have the potential to affect you during your journey.