File picture: Maxim Shemetov

Johannesburg - Africa’s emergence as an economic growth zone is attracting business investment – both from other countries on the continent and abroad.

As interest and foreign direct investment into the region grows, so will the amount of travel for South African and global business executives.

However, many of these executive could be at risk.

Annelie Smith, corporate executive at Risk Benefit Solutions (RBS) – a South African independent financial services advisory firm operating in Africa - notes many of the businesses expanding into the region do not have the appropriate risk management procedures in place for staff travelling into these regions.

She says that representatives travelling for business need to have precautions in place for each region of travel as the associated risks could potentially expose both the staff and businesses to danger as well as significant additional expenses.

RBS notes the recently released International SOS Travel Risk Map 2016 – a comprehensive overview of risks by destination to aid organisations and staff in their travel risk mitigation efforts – highlights the disconnect between travellers’ preparation for travel and the reality of what travel actually entails.

It revealed that 71 percent of senior executive travellers have experienced medical problems abroad, yet only 15 percent had adequately researched local healthcare prior to travelling.

Smith notes, beyond this, rising political and social unrest have further increased the risk of business travel. According to the Global Kidnap Review 2016, the threat of kidnapping in Africa has also increased due to militant activity. Kidnapping in Africa accounted for 34 percent of reported cases worldwide in 2015 - making it the second highest number of incidents per region, notes RBC.

Security warning

Just this week, Aon South Africa issued security warnings to its clients via its WorldAware Operations Centre regarding a state of emergency declared in Kaduna, Nigeria after a spate of kidnappings for ransom.

In a statement, it explains the Kaduna State Police Command declared a State of Emergency on April 5 to combat the spike in kidnapping cases in the state.

It adds: “The state police command announced that an anti-kidnap squad task force has been established to track and locate criminal gangs suspected of engaging in kidnapping for ransom. Over the last three months, there have been several cases of kidnap for ransom and extortion, with the most prevalent being a Colonel in the Nigerian Army who was killed by his abductors after he was taken on March 25.”

Dani Ettridge, of Aon South Africa adds that there are an estimated 15 000 to 20 000 kidnap for ransom and extortion incidents every year, but many more go unreported.

“Emerging markets which are experiencing significant growth and foreign business activity provide fertile ground for such incidents. Kidnap patterns in Africa particularly show that expats from international companies and the personnel of international aid organisations are likely victims due to the high profile and perceived wealth of the company they work for. But even the South African environment with its perceived low levels of law enforcement is conducive to the kidnapping of professionals,” warns Ettridge.

The impact of a kidnapping can be enormous. It is extremely traumatic for those involved and dealing with an incident can lead to significant losses from ransom payments, business interruption, litigation, adverse publicity and long-term reputational damage, says Aon.

Smith says the statistics highlight the many risks associated with travelling into Africa, aside from stolen or lost luggage protection. “Medical and travel security issues may require extensive medical treatment, emergency medical evacuation, flight cancellations or even kidnap and ransom cover – all of which necessitate comprehensive cover.

“There unfortunately isn’t a one size-fits-all approach for travel insurance, and businesses should provide sufficient protection for their staff depending on the potential risks that may be encountered in the specific region they will be visiting.

Andre Van Tonder from Aon Sub-Sahara Africa’s Crisis Management Team has tips for travellers, including that they should arrange transport through trusted and well-vetted sources.

“Travellers should also avoid displaying any unnecessary signs of wealth or affluence. Travellers and employer and support organisations must allocate realistic contingency plans in place to cater for impromptu travel disruption. Travel by road should only be undertaken in daylight hours with robust travel management and assign secure escorts due to the risks posed by armed robbers. Where possible, undertake medium and long-distance travel by air. Vary routines, be discrete with your itinerary and be alert to possible signs of surveillance by third parties.”