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Travel Advisors' Business Thrives

Security: Intelligence services have seen demand rise since Sept. 11, offering updates on dangers abroad, but some firms may take their job too far.

April 01, 2002|JIM KRANE | ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK — For Americans who travel abroad, the world looks like a more menacing place.

Since Sept. 11, a swarm of travel intelligence services and executive tracking programs have emerged, capitalizing on the fear of things foreign. Most aim to inform business junketeers about the potential for disease, delays and danger.

Business, they say, has been vigorous.

"We're adding double the number of clients per month than we were before Sept. 11," said Tim Daniel, chief operating officer of International SOS Assistance Inc. "There's a real desire to find out what the heck is going on."

International SOS, based in Philadelphia and London, had mainly been known as the company that evacuates executives from war zones.

Now, the company e-mails clients daily "situation updates" and offers a locator service to track business travelers as they trot the globe.

A new company called IJet Travel Intelligence--formed by former American, British, South African and Russian intelligence officers--touts a computer network based on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's.

Like the CIA, the Annapolis, Md.-based company monitors thousands of information sources for hints of future mayhem, said Rick Lurie, IJet's vice president for intelligence operations.

Last summer, the company warned travelers to South Africa to expect violent demonstrations during a United Nations conference on race. Demonstrations occurred, but were mostly peaceful.

"We told people weeks in advance," said Lurie, who used to work at the U.S. National Security Agency. "The State Department reported its warning the day of the conference."

Has the world really grown more dangerous?

"That's probably fair to say," said State Department spokesman Edward Dickens. "In certain places, under certain circumstances, Americans are a particular target. But it was dangerous in places and at times before Sept. 11."

But Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, which advocates travel-friendly public policy, said the U.S. government and security companies have a "vested interest" in warning Americans of risks abroad, even if that means erring on the side of caution.

The world "isn't more dangerous if you look at it from a statistical standpoint," Mitchell said.

For security companies, warning Americans is more than a vested interest. It's a livelihood.

Some may take their job too far. For instance, IJet's Lurie described Spain, whose streets are arguably safer than those in the United States, as a "terrorist hotbed."

Spain does suffer occasional bombings by Basque insurgents. But few consider the country unsafe. The State Department says the 1 million yearly American visitors haven't been targeted, but should still watch out--mainly for pickpockets.

In most countries, the situation is similar. Corporate espionage, street crime and traffic wrecks are bigger worries, said Thomas Nulty, president of Navigant International, a corporate travel management company.

Travelers may be better off directly calling the State Department desk for the appropriate country to get free information, some security experts say.

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