Vertical Markets

Shetravel: solo female travel risk

by Mark Rowe

What’s the risk landscape for female travellers, whether for business or pleasure? That was the question taken up by three speakers at a Shetravel webinar yesterday. It was opened by Shetravel founder Anna-Liisa Tampuu, the head of intelligence for the emergency medical and security response company Northcott Global Solutions (NGS).

She introduced the first speaker Caroline Neil, of the security training and risk consultancy RPS Partnership. As she began by explaining, her company offers training for travellers to fragile, complex and remote places; typically to NGO and charity workers and the oil and gas sector, ‘even journalists’.

She showed a photo of Liverpool John Lennon Airport during a recent journey of hers, and therein lay the new risk for female travellers; the place looked and was as Caroline said, ‘deserted’. As she said: “We are in weird times now.”

While not admitting to anxiety when recently beginning to travel again after the months of lockdown, she did speak of ‘apprehension’ and ‘disquiet’; to appreciate how strongly that suggests that any traveller may find it difficult to get used to travel again, consider how well-travelled Caroline is, in Africa, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, and so on. Thanks to social distancing and rules of mask- or even visor-wearing, including on aircraft, it’s now as Caroline said ‘a great unknown world’.

She went on to what the practical risks might be. As featured in the May 2019 print edition of Professional Security magazine, to recap briefly, Anna-Liisa Tampuu set up SheTravel as a women’s-only forum to share experiences and ideas about the risks of solo female travel – such as, pre-coronavirus, sexual harassment, whether in taxis or poolside in hotels; or scams; or drugged drinks.

As Caroline said, women’s vulnerability to such harassment remains – indeed, as airports are so deserted, the risk may be greater – because what if someone approaches? As in other contexts, it’s difficult if everyone is wearing a mask, to carry out routinely situational awareness; to gather from someone’s face if they are angry, and posing a threat, or indeed showing other emotion towards you, such as a smile.

Directly answering that question, has the risk landscape changed, Caroline said that it’s exactly the same; and has become ‘a bit more worrying, because you don’t have people around to ask for help, where you would normally’. She advised keeping an open mind, ‘to stay flexible in your head’. She closed by offering some tips:

– ‘be extra prepared’;
– if parking at the airport, think about your return; if you get back late at night, you could be the only person in that car park;
– when at a hotel, be careful about where your room is (generally speaking, for any traveller, the risk on a ground floor is of break-in; on high floors, of not being able to escape in a fire);
– if you are thinking of going to a country that has a ‘covid curfew’; and where the Foreign Office is advising only essential travel; consider that you may require specialist insurance because otherwise you may not be covered.

More in the October 2020 print edition of Professional Security magazine. Picture by Mark Rowe; summer 2019, jet taking off from London City Airport, looking west to Canary Wharf.

For the second speaker, click here.

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