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8 Dec, 2008

Short-term Drop in U.S. Business Travel to India Seen After Mumbai Attack

The attack in Mumbai will prompt short-term cancellations in business travel to India and Pakistan, and initiate long-term interest in hotel security and guest safety on the part of corporate consumers, according to a survey conducted by the Alexandria, Virginia-based Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE).

ACTE represents a membership of senior business travel industry executives from 82 countries. It estimates the global business travel industry to be worth €463 billion a year.

Nearly half of the 134 international business travel managers who replied to the survey reported that their companies made extensive travel to the region; 48% indicated they were curtailing travel to India “until the situation became more settled.” Just 7% claimed they were doing so indefinitely.

“ This response is in keeping with a typical industry reaction,” said Susan Gurley, Executive Director of ACTE. “Subsequent research has revealed that the majority of travel managers with business in India simply want to make sure that their travellers will not get caught up in street demonstrations or public reprisals, should any occur.”

Gurley added that only 7% of the survey’s respondents claimed that travellers were requesting not to travel to any destination at this time. An additional 12% requested not to travel to India, and another 10% extended that request to include Pakistan. Fifty-one percent of respondents indicated their travelers had not made such requests.

The survey revealed that an overwhelming 78% of responding travel managers would be seeking a review of their hotel contracts with a greater emphasis on security and guest safety. Of this group, 50% said the extent of the review would depend on the region, while the remaining 28% would extend the review to all hotels.

Twenty percent of the survey respondents reported they were satisfied with the security of their hotel partners. Exactly the same number of respondents also stated their hotel partners already meet high standards in the areas cited for general improvement.

Thirty-one percent of respondents said they would be looking for improvements in:

• More detailed coordination with local authorities (police, fire, military) with regard to hotel blueprints and planned assistance

• Staff training for evacuation and assistance

• Back-up communications systems for guests trapped in rooms

• Better surveillance systems

Fourteen percent of responding travel managers claimed that having higher security standards would be the deal breaker for their hotel business.

Ms Gurley said “hostages (caught in the two hotels attacks in Mumbai) reported they were unable to get any news from failed cable systems and that the phones were out. Yet at least one guest reported they were in contact with their corporate travel department and a news agency via a cell phone. This will put a new emphasis on the need to travel with a reliable flashlight, a small self-powered radio, and a cell phone with international capabilities.”

She added, “Security issues are not confined to India. There are dozens of places in which an attack of this nature could have occurred and there are still equally devastating threats from disease or natural disasters, like earthquakes.”

At the same time, Ms Gurley also pointed out that the key word in the hotel industry is “hospitality,” and that business travellers do not want to feel as if they are staying in an armed camp. “Everyone wants enhanced security, but they also don’t want it evident,” said Gurley.

She pointed out that ACTE’s worldwide travel industry education program included several events in India for 2009, which will not change.

In another related development, ACTE is requesting that the U.S. Government temporarily halt the use of a controversial identification document reading device being deployed at U.S. borders, until thorough testing can determine if it is a potential source of traveller identity theft.

According to published reports monitored by ACTE, the new device can remotely read highly personal data as an individual approaches U.S. border crossings. If travelling in a car, the device can read data on every individual in the vehicle, using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips embedded in passports, passcards, and drivers licenses.

“ ACTE is concerned that unauthorized individuals could either resort to electronic eavesdropping at the border, or use similar devices that could extract data from RFID chips at other locations,” said Ms Gurley. “ACTE’s understanding is that the only official travel document currently recognized by the U.S. government for border identification, with an RFID chip, is a U.S. passport, as the data is not readable from any distance.”

Now it appears that RFID technology is being applied to drivers’ licenses and passcards as well. “ACTE believes that the travelling public needs to know what forms of ID have RFID chips in them, and which steps have been taken to prevent remote accessing of data,” said Gurley.

The last public resolution of the RFID passport required the device to be physically opened and inserted into a reader before divulging its contents. This is apparently not the case with the current system of readers.

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