We are in the midst of summer when many people and families engage in travel. Although a time that most of us look forward, it is also a time that we need to be aware of some of the risks when travelling.
This month’s column was prepared by Chicago based Karen Knecht, Global Talent & Leadership Manager at InterContinental Hotels Group. Karen enjoys travelling the world and going out to enjoy different food and drinks. She shares some great tips we can all follow when we are on the road to prevent crime. The objective of this column is not to be an alarmist but to promote a level of awareness so that you have a positive holiday experience.
It feels like we are surrounded by criminal activities day in, day out: news reports show crimes that just happened, we read books about serial killers, and we watch TV shows which add drama to situations that might have happened at one stage in time. Don’t let this be your fate though, especially when you travel or go out to enjoy summer! Hotels and restaurants are focused on your safety and security. Team members get regular training which helps them with identifying suspicious people and packages, preventing fraud, and handling incidents involving intoxicated patrons. We as individuals can do our part to prevent crime and/or being a victim of as crime. For example, being aware of our surroundings and identifying suspicious people and packages.
So what makes somebody a suspicious person?
In general suspicious people portray nervous behaviour such as avoiding eye contact, glancing around, sweating profusely, tapping their feet, and moving faster or slower than people around them. They hang around areas nobody else is present, or sit in a corner and look out for potential victims who leave their briefcases, suitcases, purses, or cell phones unattended. They sometimes wear inappropriate or over-sized clothes like a coat on a warm day which enables them to hide something in it. Keeping their hands in their pockets can indicate that they might have a weapon. Very suspicious behaviour is when somebody tries to open hotel or car doors, one after the other.
And what makes a package suspicious?
Any unattended bag, briefcases, packages, etc. can contain an explosive device. Take caution is you receive a package or letter that is addressed to your company, but not directed to a specific person or department. These suspicious packages might also have inappropriate or unusual labeling: no return address, distorted handwriting, misspelled common words, uneven surface, appears to contain no correspondence, excessive postage, incorrect titles or title without a name, threatening language or pictures, postmarked from a city or state that does not match the return address, delivered by unexplained or unusual means, oily stains or discoloration, powdery substances (felt or appearing), peculiar odors, bulky, protruding wires or aluminum foil, excessive weight, ticking sound, etc). DO NOT TOUCH any of these suspicious packages, evacuate the area and contact security or police immediately.
So what should you do when you encounter a suspicious person?
It is very important that you don’t panic! Always be polite and courteous (smile and use eye-contact) when you greet the person and ask if you can help them. Note details about the person such as hair color, height, weight, clothing, ethnicity, gender, etc. Then contact security or police and tell them which direction the subject was heading to so they can follow up.
Here are a number of tips you can consider to avoid being a victim:
- Pay attention to your surroundings.
- Don’t talk on the phone or text when you walk down a street as this might distract you and make you an easy target.
- Don’t look like a tourist! Put your camera away if you are not taking pictures, fit in wearing appropriate clothes, and don’t look at your travel guide in plain sight.
- Put your money in a money belt or in an inside coat pocket. Don’t carry all your money and credit cards with you. Use traveler checks or pre-paid credit cards.
- Keep a copy of your passport, ID, credit cards, etc. in a safe place. If you lose the original you have the details available so can replace documents easier.
- Use the hotel safe to store your valuables.
- Don’t leave your credit card out of your site. It is easy to take a picture of your cards and use the information on the internet.
- Only use marked taxis and note the taxi number.
- Ask a trusted person what areas you should avoid walking around. Most cities have areas you don’t want to end up in!
- Don’t walk or stand too close to the road.
- Wear a bag that cannot be grabbed easily. Put your bag on your lap or somewhere it cannot be grabbed easily when you are sitting down.
- Don’t put your cellphone on the table of outdoor restaurants. It’s very easy for somebody to grab it and run away.
Follow these tips and have a fun summer!