As a corporate traveller, there is nothing you can do about the political risk of your destination, but you should be well informed about it. Websites featuring travel warnings should then be essential breakfast reading, so you at least have some warning about what may happen to you when you step outside your hotel foyer.
The sites can make grim reading.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issues comprehensive travel advice on all destinations, including the Asia-Pacific region.
At the moment they warn against non-essential travel to Indonesia, including Bali, saying that further attacks are being planned against embassies, international schools, international hotels, churches, shopping centres, transport hubs or identifiable western interests, including businesses.
Australians are advised against all travel to Aceh, and those already in Aceh are encouraged to leave, due to fighting between Indonesian government forces and separatists.
In Bali, the sites say, there have been several recent cases where tourists have fallen victim to organised gambling gangs. These gangs have extorted money from tourists in exchange for their safe release.
In Papua New Guinea, travellers are warned about deteriorating law and order and the possibility of terrorist attacks. DFAT advises that Australians travelling to PNG should monitor local developments that might affect their safety.
According to risk-broking house Stening Simpson’s website, there have been car hijackings in PNG by armed offenders, assault, armed robberies and gang rapes, and travellers are advised not to walk at night. Nor should they use taxis or buses known as public motor vehicles but instead rely on their sponsor or hotel to arrange transport.
Stening Simpson’s Peter Stening advises that travellers in high-risk countries should never take taxis. “Always use the hotel car. It will be more expensive than a taxi, but you are far better off: the driver knows you and knows where you are going and is also trained in evasive action.”
He emphasises that no country is safe at the moment. “It is getting worse daily. After 9/11, I felt that World War III had started, but it is a different war where you cannot tell the goodies from the baddies.
“We are not covering the insurance for clients travelling to the Congo or Colombia. The UAE is now off-limits and so is Saudi Arabia – unless the trip is absolutely critical, and travellers would have to pay for extra security while they are on the ground.
“We are expecting something really bad is about to happen in Saudi Arabia. They are threatening spectacular attacks.”
Stening is also warning people off Bali. “We have intelligence that suggests there is a group planning further action.”
In Jakarta, DFAT says that there have been several incidents where Australians have been robbed after their car tyres were deliberately punctured. DFAT warns: “If travelling with a driver, passengers should remain in the vehicle, with all doors locked, while the tyre is being changed.”
Australians are also cautioned about raids by militant Islamic groups against bars, nightclubs and other public places in Indonesia, particularly during religious holidays.
In February 2004, the Indonesian government implemented a new visitor visa regime at immigration check points throughout Indonesia. DFAT advises that Australia is one of 21 countries affected by this new regulation and Australians should seek advice from the nearest Indonesian embassy or consulate before arriving.
Meanwhile in Thailand, DFAT continues to receive reports that terrorists are planning attacks in tourist and resort areas, along with public areas known to be frequented by foreign tourists or expatriates.
In fact, Thai separatists have publicly warned foreigners against travel to parts of southern Thailand.
On April 28, militants attacked Thai security forces in several locations throughout far southern Thailand. Violent incidents have been endemic in this region for many years, although the violence has become more intense since early 2004. Recent incidents include placement of bombs in shopping districts, armed attacks on security forces and the torching of schools.
Thai authorities have expressed concern that explosives, recently stolen in southern Thailand, may be used in attacks.
Martial law is in place in a number of districts. Australians should closely adhere to instructions from Thai security forces and to the local security measures put in place by these authorities.
The Philippines is also providing a focus for terrorists, and Australians should be very cautious in areas known to be frequented by foreigners.
Kidnapping is also a danger throughout the Philippines.