I have to take my hat off to my fellow road warriors in the industry. Never mind what we read in the newspapers or watch on television, we are out there, kicking butt and getting the business. Yes, my friends, we have been on a war footing since September 11, 2001, and still we hit the road, my Jacks and Jills.
I never quite saw it that way until my good friend Elizabeth Rich introduced me to a group of young people taking part in the AIME Youth Forum as “the travel industry’s war correspondent”. Liz was most impressed by the fact that I was in Phnom Penh when the anti-Thai riots erupted in the Cambodian city, and that I work within what the media has painted as one of the world’s hottest terrorist spots.
Now, how did safe and sunny Singapore come to have such an exciting label? To think when I was transferred to this place, I was dragged kicking and screaming because I was leaving dynamic Hong Kong for sterile Singapore.
Is this the reason why even the Rolling Stones have included Singapore in their world tour this time round – because it is now wild and dangerous enough for Mick and the lads?
Then, I chaired the AIME Business Events Forum in which I got to interview a political risk specialist, Peter Stening, who runs the Stening Simpson Group based in Sydney and Bermuda. Over drinks the evening before, Peter asked me if I knew Christine Amanpour. Of course, I said yes – who doesn’t know this lady who probably brushes her teeth with iron filings and eats top political leaders for breakfast.
Seems that he’s been interviewed by the chief honcho of war correspondents – and perhaps thought I was the travel industry’s war correspondent. Why else, after all, would a tourism event feature a political risk specialist?
Anyway, interviewing Peter Stening live on stage was one of the hardest things I have done in a long time. These political risk specialists have to be, by nature and deed, very secretive and very guarded with what they say.
I could liken the exercise to trying to pull teeth from a chicken except in Peter’s case, it would be gold-plated teeth. He wears a lot of gold on his person, does Peter.
That’s because gold prices are up and his business is booming – which is good news really for those of us who think the world is going through such a depressing phase that everyone is broke, including us.
Political risk insurance continues to be his biggest income earner – that’s insurance companies’ take against misappropriation and nationalisation.
In layman’s terms, that means when governments change their mind and decide they want to take over or grab a share of the hard-earned money you’ve made in their countries because you are making more money than they are.
His second biggest income earner, since September 11, is kidnap and ransom insurance. That’s insurance you (or your company) buy in case some local thug decides you are wearing too much gold for your own good and wants a slice of it, and they grab you, tie you up, force feed you if you are lucky and wait for someone like Peter to come by and pay them in bags of gold.
Anyway, folks like Peter know a lot more than we do about what is going on in the world of terrorism, thugs and things, and I take consolation from the fact that despite what he knows, he is still out there travelling, like us.
Okay, for us, we may be travelling because ignorance is bliss but for Peter, information is power and if what he knows doesn’t stop him, then why should it stop us?
This is why I want to salute all my Asian friends who will be winging their way to Europe over the next week to hit the streets in the major European cities to drum up business for our region.
Some are heading off to London, which Peter said is now the world’s most dangerous city, for another event called Confex. Some are going off to other parts of Europe on sales calls before ending up in Berlin for our annual bunfight, ITB. And countries on the continent are also on terrorist alerts, as we know.
The only consolation is Berlin could be perceived as safe because Gerhard Schroeder is not letting the US beat him around the Bush.
To you, I share these tips from security experts. Continue travelling, but take precautions – avoid crowded places, don’t wear gold, don’t carry Louis Vuitton luggage. In other words, don’t be loud.
Which I know will be hard to do at ITB. It is one crowded, loud place. But for your own sake, leave the gold and diamonds behind. Otherwise, buy some K&R insurance and be thankful there are folks like Peter looking out for us.