Looking at risks beyond COVID-19, Lyndsey Atkins from specialist TMC Reed Mackay interviewed Anvil's Director of Risk Mitigation and Intelligence, Grant Miller, to discuss the protests in Hong Kong and the USA and the risks they pose to business travellers
COVID-19 was the main news story for some time. What might we have missed on the global risk map while focused on the pandemic?
“From unrest in Hong Kong which has resumed after a hiatus during COVID-19, to the unrest in NYC, Chicago and throughout the United States, there is certainly risk beyond the pandemic. We’re also seeing increased restrictions on democracy in Africa and Hungary and the economic effects of the pandemic have also exacerbated existing issues in Chile and Lebanon.”
Looking at Hong Kong specifically as a key business destination what impact could the unrest have on business travel?
“The protests have been ongoing since last June and really started as a result of an extradition bill. Now though, they represent general unrest and could well increase in the short term. The protests have ranged from a few dozen participants to millions of people taking part. Sometimes they crop up sporadically and others have gone on for days at a time, such as the airport sit-ins. The real challenge for business travellers is that the protests are often located in the core of the city, where many offices would be. At best it means movement is restricted but it can also result in police clashes and a risk to traveller safety.”
How long can we expect the protests in Hong Kong to continue at this scale?
“Although the protests waned during the most intense parts of COVID-19, they picked up again in May, largely due to the new national security bill. It remains to be seen what the new powers will mean for the protests. In the short term they are likely to intensify but we don’t yet know for the long term.”
The USA is also experiencing significant unrest. What impact could this have on business travel?
“Cities throughout the US are facing a scale of protests not seen since the civil rights movements in the 1960s. Many of the protests have been peaceful but there has also been looting, arson and clashes with the police. These are not localised protests, they are nationwide and reach beyond major cities to rural areas. The protests spring up organically which makes it much harder to predict where the protests will be.”
What guidance can we give to travellers to help them stay safe while travelling on business?
“It’s important to say that it is possible to go to these locations safely. We’re just encouraging a higher standard of caution. Destinations like Hong Kong and major cities in the US have traditionally been very safe. That can create a false sense of security. The advice is to be a little more prepared. Maintain situational awareness. Plan ahead – how will you travel if the roads are blocked? How will you communicate if cellular coverage is down?”
This is taking place at the same time as a global pandemic – what added risks does that pose?
“It’s not as easy as it used to be to move around. If someone needs medical assistance, there is a real risk that medical infrastructure could already be suffering. Travellers may not want to visit a local hospital for other medical concerns if there has been a recent outbreak of COVID-19. It’s also more difficult to get someone home with entry and re-entry requirements changing regularly. Businesses just need to be prepared.”
How do we keep travellers informed with so much conflicting information out there?
“You need to give travellers more than what they can get from watching the news. Make it easy to digest. Informative. Easy to access. They must be able to use it.
Really that is where a global security operation or external security intelligence provider comes in. Don’t leave travellers to have to distil information from local media. It could be in a foreign language and it could well be biased. Social media presents a challenge, it’s so accessible and not verified. A good intelligence provider will be looking at everything from social media to government intelligence and then they make a good assessment.”