Top 10 unexpected travel destinations and their risks

Scenic view
Risky destinations

James Howard, Head of AIG Travel’s operations in the UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa, shares AIG Travel’s list of the top 10 unexpected travel destinations and explores the potential risks travel insurance providers should share with their clients

As far-flung parts of the world have become more accessible to foreigners in recent years, a growing trend of travellers seeking new and different travel destinations has emerged. AIG Travel recently compiled a list of the top 10 unexpected travel destinations. As those of us in the travel industry know well, travelling abroad – whether for business or pleasure – comes with risks specific to the destination, the traveller, the mode of transportation, and so on. A travel assistance provider can help give clients a more complete picture of what they can expect during their impending travel. 
If you’re an assistance provider, here are some key points to share with your clients about visiting these countries.

Travelling abroad – whether for business or pleasure – comes with risks specific to the destination, the traveller, the mode of transportation, and so on

This Central American country is a popular destination for adventure travellers, among whom it’s known as a hiking and backpacking paradise. Salar de Uyuni, or salt flats, is the country’s top tourist destination and makes for a beautiful photo op. Travellers should seek reputable guides, and may need assistance doing so, as not all tour operators will have equipment like satellite phones for emergency communication. The risk of altitude sickness should be a concern to travellers to the region, as should the lack of amenities and infrastructure and difficulty accessing medical treatment in rural areas. Security, including corruption and petty crime, is also an issue in the country. Although Bolivia generally has moderate levels of civil unrest, widespread protests have been ongoing in the country since the October election. Travellers should keep this in mind if planning a trip in the near term, as protests and demonstrations can quickly get out of hand.

Ecuador is an emerging budget travel destination that offers something for almost every kind of traveller: islands, mountains, jungles and the Pacific Ocean. Off the coast of Ecuador are the Galapagos Islands, famed for their wildlife viewing. The country is also a hot spot for foodies because of its diverse herbs, spices, fruits and animals. Ecuador poses a moderate risk due to crime (both violent and petty), corruption and kidnapping, so we advise travellers to avoid travelling alone (especially at night), minimise displays of wealth, and request formal documentation or receipts if facing a fine from a security official.

Another scenic view

Only recently accessible to many travellers, Russia is an ideal destination for those interested in history and architecture, but it does require extensive planning and preparation to ensure a pleasant trip. Firstly, foreign travellers are required to apply for a visa as well as receive an invitation from a licensed tourism operator or a Russian citizen. Travellers should be mindful of their belongings, as pick-pocketing and bag-snatching are common. Kidnapping – for either ransom or political reasons – and terrorism are more of a concern in the north Caucasus region. Access to medical care can be an issue when in rural areas. LGBTQ+ travellers should be discreet, including scrubbing their orientation from social media and clearing their browser/app history, due to the risk of being targeted by anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

Outdoor enthusiasts are likely to enjoy trekking and backpacking across Kyrgyzstan and camping in yurts; however, tourism in the country’s mountain and lake regions is slow due to a lack of financial resources. Those taking part in adventure travel in the country should bring a first aid kit for common injuries and illnesses, such as cuts and scratches, as over-the-counter painkillers, bandages, bug spray and other medicines can be difficult to obtain. Corruption (across all levels of Kyrgyz Government), crime and civil unrest are the primary concerns in the region. Travellers should be aware of police officers soliciting bribes, secure their belongings and carry minimal cash and valuables, especially in crowded areas. Civil unrest is fairly common in Bishkek, the country’s capital, which can cause travel disruptions throughout the city.

Travellers interested in culture, religion and architecture will enjoy Bhutan’s timeless and distinct identity. It is, however, a difficult and expensive locale to get to. There are few flights into the main airport and few land border-crossing options, both of which can be dangerous. Additionally, travellers should avoid speaking negatively about the country’s politics, leadership and monarchy, as locals are likely to be offended.

This affordable alternative to Italy and Greece offers stunning coast lines and a Mediterranean climate. Crime levels in Croatia are lower than in neighbouring countries; however, travellers should take caution in crowded areas, where opportunistic petty crime is more common. Although Croatia is involved in border disputes, they aren’t likely to affect travellers. Protests in the country are typically peaceful. Due to tensions with the other countries of the former Yugoslavia, though, travellers should avoid discussing these topics, as they remain sensitive.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
One of the safest Middle Eastern countries to visit, UAE is home to Dubai, which is central to the country’s tourism. Although laws are quite strict, which contributes to the low crime rate, tourists are allowed to drink alcohol in hotels, restaurants and clubs, despite the common misconception. Because of the conservative Islamic culture, travellers should take care to not violate any cultural or religious sensitivity. For example, female travellers must wear long sleeves at the zoo in Dubai and a headscarf at a mosque, and travellers should avoid swearing, making rude gestures, or engaging in public displays of affection. Adherence to driving laws is important, as Emiratis are given preferential treatment over travellers in the case of accidents.

We need to make sure we’re having in-depth conversations about what activities travellers are intending to participate in to ensure their insurance covers their activity

With ancient ruins dotting Jordan’s countryside, travellers might be surprised to know that this breathtaking country has many of the international hotel chains they are familiar with. More authentic options, such as a hotel built directly into the side of a rock, are also available. When packing for a trip to this Muslim country, travellers, particularly women, should bring conservative clothing so as not to offend any locals. Pickpocketing and other opportunistic crime are most common, so travellers should minimise any displays of wealth. Although often carried out without large-scale violence, civil unrest and protests may occur. There is also a risk of terrorism due to Jordan’s proximity to high-risk destinations, such as Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Home to Dune 45, the most photographed sand dune on Earth, and the large, arid Namib Desert, Namibia is one of the least densely populated countries, not just in Africa, but in the world. Overall, Namibia is a low-risk travel destination, but petty crime in urban centres is a concern. Travelling outside of urban centres can be difficult due to the underdeveloped infrastructure. Likewise, roadways commonly flood between January and April. LGBTQ+ travellers should take extreme caution in Namibia, as identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community is illegal. Travellers should carry a photo ID at all times and avoid taking pictures of government or military properties, as there have been reports of this being a cause for detainment.

Delightful scene

South Africa
This scenic country is an ideal destination for those interested in wildlife and extreme sports. Travellers can participate in bungee jumping, ostrich riding, cave exploring and shark cage diving in South Africa, but these activities should be booked through reputable, highly rated tour companies. The country is also known for its many internationally ranked wineries. Crime is a serious concern for travellers in the country’s major cities. Taxis and ride-sharing apps should be avoided. Instead, transportation should be pre-arranged through a hotel before arriving in the country, as car jackings along airport roads are major problem.

As members of the global travel assistance and insurance industry, it’s important that we help our clients be as prepared for their travel as possible. While it’s fun to talk to our clients about the exciting excursions and activities they will participate in while travelling, it’s even more important that we make our clients aware of the inherent risks of travelling, as well as those specific to the traveller and his or her destination, and how to mitigate those risks. 
We also need to make sure we’re having in-depth conversations about what activities they are intending to participate in to ensure their insurance covers their activity. As many policies may not cover more risky activities, policy riders or policies written specifically for their form of activity may need to be offered. By being fully prepared and covered for anything they may encounter, your clients can devote their complete attention to soaking in the once-in-a-lifetime experiences of these unique locales.