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Travel Troubles: Emerging Crime Trends in the Tourism Sector

Peter Dolamore 15 January 2020
15 January 2020    Peter Dolamore

Travel Security Special Edition

S-RM's fourth annual Travel Security Special Edition

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In 2019, there were an average of more than 9,700 aircrafts in the air – transporting over 1.2 million people – at any given moment. As international travel often brings passengers to new destinations, they may face unfamiliar security dynamics. In fact, in 2019, 68 percent of tourists ranked security threats as their primary concern – above geopolitical unrest or natural disasters. For travellers and the hospitality industry more broadly, crime remains one of the most prominent security threats in many operating environments.

Here we highlight several crime, kidnapping and scam-related developments that have affected both travellers and the hospitality industry in 2019. One of S-RM’s security consulting experts, Peter Dolamore, shares some key insights on how to better prepare against such threats. 



SRM Crime IconThere has been a rise in criminal incidents in several popular tourist hotspots around the world in 2019. Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city, saw a 31 percent upsurge in violent robberies in the first half of 2019. In many of these incidents, local criminals targeted tourists. For example, in June, muggers attacked a South Korean public servant who later died from her injuries. In another incident in August, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Spain was mugged and injured in the city centre. Elsewhere, in South Africa, tourism has declined amid rising crime levels, with theft, burglaries, robberies and scams being the most common crimes affecting foreign nationals in the country. There were several incidents of tourists being attacked in holiday resorts in Mexico. Official 2019 statistics show that eight coastal tourist destinations – including Cancún and Zihuatanejo – are among the 50 most violent locations in the country, where drug cartels have been fighting for control. Moreover, some cartels that engage in oil theft, such as Santa Rosa de Lima, have responded to a fierce government crackdown by increasingly turning their focus towards the extortion of restaurants, bakeries and butcher shops, especially in Guanajuato State.

Expert Advice

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  • Keep all valuables in a hotel safe when not in use. Carry copies of important documents when leaving the hotel. Ask advice in hotels about keeping passports with you. In some countries, it is a legal requirement for travellers.

  • Use spyholes in hotel doors (where provided) before opening them.

  • Lock car doors when travelling through areas in which you feel unsafe, or if travelling slowly. If driving, maintain sight of ‘tyres and tarmac’ in front of you when in traffic, allowing you the distance to swerve out of lane if necessary.

  • Check the local number for the emergency services and have emergency contacts pre-programmed into your phone.

  • ‘Sanitise’ your luggage and your person. Only carry the cash, cards, personal information and documentation with you that you deem absolutely necessary at any one time.

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  • Walk out with conspicuous displays of wealth, including expensive clothing, watches, jewellery and electronics. If you must carry valuables whilst in public, make sure they are hidden.

  • Walk alone at night. Stick to busy roads and streets that are well-lit. Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts which are unknown to you or are less busy.

  • Stand still. Get into the habit of moving around, swaying or fidgeting while in queues or public spaces. This makes it much more difficult for pickpockets and bag-snatchers to make sudden grabs for your belongings.

  • Leave bags or belongings unattended.

  • Accept lifts from strangers or use unregistered taxis.

  • Be a hero when confronted with a knife or a firearm.


SRM Kidnap IconIn 2019, South America remained the region with the highest number of kidnappings in the world. However, kidnapping incidents have been rising in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa (South Africa, Nigeria) and Asia (India and the Philippines). While more than 90 percent of kidnap victims around the world are locals, perpetrators continue to view foreign nationals as attractive targets. For example, in April, gunmen kidnapped a US tourist and her local guide in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park. They demanded a USD 500,000 ransom, some of which was paid to secure her release. In another instance in October, Abu Sayyaf militants kidnapped a UK national and his Filipino wife from a resort that they own in southern Philippines. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of USD 1 million. Security forces rescued the victims in late November. In early November, police arrested four fellow officers and two civilians in Jakarta, Indonesia, for kidnapping a UK national, who was ransomed for USD 900,000. These incidents are broadly indicative of criminal and militant elements trying to generate income by targeting tourists and other foreign nationals, a pattern that will undoubtedly persist in 2020.  

Expert advice:

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  • Keep someone informed of your whereabouts and travel times. Arrange to check in with them at regular intervals and have a plan in place in case you miss a check-in.

  • Organise transport through a reputable local company, or from your hotel concierge, and look for an ID badge when they arrive. Check with the driver who they are there to pick up, do not offer your name first.

  • Check your travel route before you get into a vehicle, and monitor where you are going. Don’t be afraid to ask the driver what route they are taking if you don’t recognise it.

  • If someone attempts to abduct you, try to make a commotion or escape. If this is not successful, follow the kidnappers’ instructions and try not to antagonise them.

  • Be careful about the relationships you form and the information you share with strangers – especially regarding your income, employment and political affiliations.

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  • Stand out from those around you by wearing culturally inappropriate clothing or expensive jewellery in less affluent areas.

  • Set routines if you are staying in the same place for an extended period. Alter the time you leave or the route you take to commonly visited locations.

  • Stop and get out of a car if an incident takes place on the road. Stay out of it, call the emergency services immediately, and remove yourself from the area.

  • Wear headphones while walking alone. You may not notice someone approaching you.

  • Share personal information with strangers – especially regarding your income, employment and political affiliations.


SRM Scam IconScams continue to be a major concern for tourists and other travellers, as con artists, taxi drivers and even restaurant staff target them due to their perceived wealth and potential unfamiliarity with their destination. In recent years, online scams have become more prevalent. While the majority of online holiday scams relate to the sale of airline tickets, scams involving private accommodation bookings (such as an apartment or villa) have become increasingly common. This is often done via websites that appear to be legitimate, offering luxury accommodation for rent, often at reduced rates. In some cases, the accommodation is offered by scammers without the owner’s knowledge, while in others, the property does not even exist. This type of scam is common in France and Spain. For example, in September, a UK couple paid more than USD 12,000 to rent a luxury two-bedroom apartment in Ibiza, Spain, only to discover that the property did not exist. In 2018, online hotel booking scams cost customers an estimated USD 5.7 billion. These scams are expected to become more prevalent in 2020, and increasingly involve other services sought by tourists. For instance, in June 2019, a conman based in Cape Town, South Africa, used his fake car rental company to scam several tourists out of tens of thousands of US dollars. Operators in the hospitality industry have been targeted too: in separate incidents in October and November in Detroit, Michigan, scammers used various ruses to direct restaurant employees to purchase gift cards using cash from the tills. The employees were then asked to send the details of the cards to the scammers, who could use that information to spend the money on the cards.

Expert advice:

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  • Book holidays through a reputable company, and check their terms and conditions in case of issues with accommodation.

  • Read reviews for both the company you are booking through and the individual property you are booking.

  • Pay for holidays using a credit card; or a debit card if you don’t have one. It is much harder to get a refund if you have used a bank transfer or cheque.

  • If travelling in a taxi, agree a pre-set fare, or make sure that the fare is displayed on the meter.

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  • Accept an offer that seems ‘too good to true’. If a holiday is being sold at half the going rate, or looks much better than comparable offers, it is likely to be a scam.

  • Book anything with no reviews, or reviews which look generic or fake.

  • Order food or drinks at a restaurant without first seeing the menu and checking the prices.



Read our 2020 Travel Security Special Edition for more global security insights.


COVID-19 Pandemic

To discuss this article or other industry developments, please reach out to one of our experts.

Saif Islam
Saif islam Senior Analyst, Security and Crisis Management Email Saif
Peter Dolamore
Peter dolamore Director, Security and Crisis Management Email Peter

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