THE MAGAZINE

The Risky Business of Travel

By Ann Longmore-Etheridge

For example, the Web site includes information on crime trends in São Paulo, Brazil. One of these is robberies of upscale restaurants by arrastao gangs (Portuguese for “trawling”). These armed intruders perform what could be called “flash robs” of upscale eateries to take patrons’ wallets, cell phones, credit cards, and jewelry. The incidents are usually over in a matter of minutes. Because of the arrastao gangs, “One of the things we recommend is for our travelers to use the hotel restaurants. We don’t say they must, but we strongly encourage it,” Blakemore says.

W. W. Grainger has offices in Mexico, making it a destination for many of its international travelers. “In Mexico, one of the things we do not allow is for anyone to rent vehicles, and all of the ground transport is orchestrated,” Blakemore states. But in Mexico even vetted transports can sometimes be accidently caught in a criminal circumstance. “In one case, the cartels blocked some of the major thoroughfares with vehicles and everything was basically frozen,” he says. The intent was not to rob or abduct travelers, but anyone within the vehicles was in danger of being accidently caught in the gang-against-gang violence that was then taking place there.

Blakemore adds that a tactic used by the company when executives travel to Mexico is to keep their stays short. “Our executives will be in and out in a day, if that is possible,” he states.

Training. Blakemore says that at W. W. Grainger, his department does provide “face-to-face training on a somewhat regular basis to groups or departments that regularly travel abroad.” The company’s medical group also provides pre-trip information on avoiding infectious diseases, needed vaccinations, and other health-related issues as part of the employees’ travel planning. Once employees have arrived, if they fall sick or are injured, W. W. Grainger contracts with both International SOS and iJET to provide information on medical assistance. International SOS, for example, runs a worldwide network of assistance centers, clinics, and health and logistics providers to offer local assistance.

Employees are coached to have situational awareness while in a foreign country. “We try to educate our travelers to maintain a low profile. We have not had an incident where U.S. nationals have been abducted but there are companies that have,” he states. “We give our employees educational material on kidnap avoidance, and for our in-country employees—because they are at a greater risk, being down there every day—we do kidnap-avoidance training, as well as defensive-driver training for the ones who drive between their home and office.”

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