The past few weeks have been anything but peaceful around the world. In the United States, the tragic killing of two African-American men provoked street manifestations around the nation. It is still too early to draw legal conclusions, but the old adage – a perception may not be correct but its consequences are true – once again proved itself.
These tragic demonstrations not only hurt local economies and reputations, but also ended in the murder of five Dallas police officers. In France, the world saw the ugly face of terrorism as a terrorist turned a truck into a weapon. The week ended with street demonstrations and a failed coup d’état in Turkey with hundreds of injuries.
Street demonstrations put both local citizens and visitors into anything from highly uncomfortable situations to outright dangerous situations. Those in the group tour business are beginning to ask questions:
•How do we protect our group if we find ourselves in the midst of a manifestation or uprising?
•What should group leaders do or not do?
•Should group leaders cancel or cut short trips due to potential street demonstrations, manifestations or uprisings?
First, a word of caution: This topic is highly complex and worthy of several full books; this article is not meant to be a full analysis of the topic, but rather to raise important questions. Therefore, it is strongly advised that before making any specific decision, the group organizer and/or leader speak with a tourism security specialist, qualified police office or other travel security expert. No one can guarantee total safety and security, however, and not even experts can predict the future with total certainty.
Given these caveats, here are a number of suggestions to aid the group professional in his or her decision-making.
Know your group’s demographics.
Although no two groups are the same, the level of potential risk rises as the group’s homogeneity decreases. Make sure you know whether group’s members speak the local language, what the age range is, and if some of the group’s members have special physical needs. The data will help the group leader to determine the level of risk when venturing onto the street.
Obtain the most up-to-date information possible.
Although it was impossible to predict a terrorist attack such as that which occurred in Nice, France, other manifestations are predictable. In the case of the anti-police demonstrations, at least 24 hours’ advanced notice was given. The absolute best protection is to avoid planned demonstrations. All demonstrations have the potential to be violent, no matter how much the demonstration’s leadership proclaims it will be peaceful.
Never travel without a clear buddy system.
Make sure that before leaving a hotel, everyone has the hotel’s address written down, along with the group leader’s cellphone number. Remind people that street manifestations not only may turn violent, but are also magnets for street criminals such as pickpockets. Thus, create a balance between what a group member can afford to lose and what the member needs for personal safety.
Wear identifying colors, but do not all dress the same.
If you are going to be close to a manifestation, be able to find your people—but do not make them targets. You do not want everyone dressed in a specific T-shirt, promotional shirt or blouse, but the group leader may decide to have the group’s members use a specific color or type of hat.
Have an emergency plan in place.
Group leaders should know where the closest medical station is located and have a credit card with enough money for a hospital visit should the need arise. Most foreign hospitals do not accept United States medical insurance, and want payment guaranteed with a credit card.
If in doubt, do not go.
That does not mean cancel the trip – but it does mean avoiding locations where street manifestations or violence may occur.