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International travel and 2022: part 1

Corporate security managers with a global remit should always be considering the international travel environment from a security perspective, writes Jamie Thomson, senior risk analyst at NGS, the London-based firm which offers medical and security emergency response services.

In 2022, as with any year, there will be a raft of overlapping issues that will impact international travel, with the overarching issue once again set to be COVID-19. This long-running issue ties in with all the other factors that play a role in shaping the security environment, so that there will be real correlation in the geopolitical security landscape.

Security managers need to monitor this environment so that international travel can be planned carefully, with appropriate consideration given to a range of security issues, more than just physical. They need to be aware not only of how to safely transport staff to international destinations, but also of how to evacuate them in medical or security emergencies, and the changing global security environment should be monitored steadily, to be able to plan the best solutions for a range of contingencies.

Medical

The security environment around international travel will inevitably be dominated by the fallout and fluctuations of the COVID-19 pandemic, which make today’s travel environment so complex. Difficulties will continue to arise from different nation states taking a different approach to managing their own outbreaks, and to prioritising different aspects of it. China, pushing its “zero-COVID” agenda, can be expected to impose ruthless local lockdowns and permit only minimum international travel with Western countries. In the West, many (but by no means all) governments are more likely to start moving towards “herd immunity”, particularly in the UK, where almost 20 per cent of the population has already had the virus, and most people have been vaccinated. These different approaches, in which politics and public image are just as much of a factor as healthcare, mean that there will be no straightforward reopening of the international travel industry, but an awkward process of trial and error for travellers to negotiate in which visas and vaccinations continue to make access problematic.

And there is likely to be an impact on international diplomatic relations: when Western countries have finally reached a stage at which they can live with COVID-19 (in the same way that we do with influenza), China could still be a long way behind, and until it can manufacture a better quality vaccine, it will need to find a way to reconsider its zero-COVID approach without losing face.

Possible impact: Restrictions will continue to impact airlines, and some may yet go out of business. If restrictions continue, there may be another drop in oil demand, keeping oil prices volatile. Until herd immunity is reached, some of the most advanced healthcare systems (UK or Spain, for instance) may once again be crippled by new waves. Unless governments’ domestic policy is clearly communicated, then there will be a security impact, with civil unrest likely to continue breaking out in advanced economies (such as France) as well as nations that are already politically insecure (as seen this month in Kazakhstan).

Geopolitics

Aside from the pandemic, security managers should keep an eye on the more conventional tensions in the international relations sphere that will play out in 2022 and will impact international travel. Tensions between the West and China over the status of Taiwan are likely to remain a long-running issue, and will not necessarily disrupt the regional international travel environment on their own in the coming twelve months. Of greater immediate concern are the strategic games being conducted by President Putin in the Russian sphere of influence. In the last two years alone, Moscow has been interfering in the domestic politics and internal security affairs of neighbouring Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

For years, Putin has sought to undermine the growing influence of the European Union, and to prevent his Western neighbours from seeking membership of either the EU or NATO, allowing him to assert his influence over Russia’s western borders. His prolonging of the civil disruption in Belarus and Ukraine, as well as his help to Lukashenko in the weaponisation of migrants at the Polish border, reflect his ambition to be surrounded by weak, compliant governments that will approach Moscow for support and remain in his pocket.

Possible impact: In 2022, even if there is no Russian invasion of the Ukraine, then domestic insecurity in the CIS region will be fuelled by Moscow’s own strategic agenda to develop its sphere of influence. This may not result in a new Cold War, but it will certainly make the region a more restricted destination, and will multiply the problems that international travellers will face when accessing a CIS nation: obtaining visas, running business operations, and conducting routine emergency planning (possibly evacuation if necessary).

Contact: for political risk analysis: risk@northcottglobalsolutions.com, and for security assessments and evacuation planning: security@northcottglobalsolutions.com.

Part two: domestic politics, struggling economies, environmental threats; click here.

Photo: Heathrow Airport.


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