How COVID-19 has Changed Travel

Listen to episode #8 of NAVIGATE, the travel podcast, talks about the challenges created by the global coronavirus pandemic.

How COVID-19 changed international travel | Global Security Director Rodger Cook

Voice Over

0:00:01 – 0:00:19

Welcome to Navigate. The podcast that helps you safely and securely traverse the globe. Alongside travel industry experts and global travellers, we’ll gather insights and advice that help you manage any pitfalls or problems that may occur while you’re away from home. Our voyage of discovery starts now.

Claire Johnson

0:00:20 – 0:01:23

Hi and welcome to navigate podcast. I’m your host, Claire Johnson, and today we’re flipping the script on one of our regular podcast host, Rodger Cook.

He’s the General Manager of Global Security Services for World Travel Protection and will be the one getting interviewed in this episode.

As we’re starting to see vaccine programmes rolling out across the world, we wanted to focus today’s episode on what that means for international travel. While most commentators still look towards 2022 before we start to see any real movement, there is a possibility that travel bubbles might appear and countries will start to put in place programmes that allow for greater freedom of movement before then.

Today we’re going to discuss what international travel might look like. In particular, some of the potential security implications travellers need to consider before they step back onto a plane. We’ll also discuss how the policing of Covid restrictions in certain countries have impacted global security and how local laws have impacted human rights and marginalised groups. Rodger, thanks for joining me today.

Rodger Cook

0:01:24 – 0:01:26

No worries Claire, my pleasure.

Claire Johnson

0:01:27 – 0:01:41

We’ve seen over the last 12 months that every country has had a different Covid journey, and we’re continuing to see those different responses in relation to their vaccine programmes. What impact have these different approaches had? And what will it mean for these countries opening up to tourists and business travellers?

Rodger Cook

0:01:42 – 0:04:02

You look, you know, in theory, governments have made their decisions, the medical decisions based on the best available medical advice. You know, we’ve seen this vary between country to country, even between states in a country. And you’re trying to get medical professionals to agree and then also politicians to buy which has been interesting at times.

You know, the decisions being made and the new laws being put in place. Obviously, aim to control the spread, eliminating the virus or taking some pressure off the medical infrastructure. It is this medical advice that again will dictate how we start to travel and how countries start to open up and who we actually open up to. You talked about those bubbles before. As you said in your intro, every country has had its own unique journey, and the decision to open up borders won’t be taken lightly. There’ll be a lot of obviously, medical advice, but also political implications in these.

Border control has been a great tool to stop the spread of Covid, and we’ve seen recently when the UK has put in hotel quarantine for people coming from certain destinations and obviously where it has been in place, it’s had a great impact on doing this. It’s a proven measure and it works.

It’s been criticised, obviously from the economic impact of closing borders. But in the long run that has proven to work. The borders, to be opened fully, will take an agreed upon approach between two governments, their health advisors and the appetite of the community to be able to bring in foreigners again.

Obviously, the efficacy of the vaccine will be critical. And, you know, with this happening, you know and the vaccine program’s coming on very quickly. We might see it speed up for 2021 but there’ll need to be some appetite for risk. We don’t really see that appetite at the moment, it’s going to come down to really how the vaccines come into play and obviously as the first lot of tourists enter a region, it’s going to be a different country for them and they’ll be received, maybe with some suspicion initially. But they’ll definitely become targets first in some jurisdictions from criminal groups.

Claire Johnson

0:04:03 – 0:04:16

You mentioned how countries have made decisions based off their local medical advice and politics. Of these decisions that have turned into laws and regulations, how have they impacted the community – and then maybe how have we seen them applied on a more global scale?

Rodger Cook

0:04:16 – 0:07:03

Yes, good question and goes back to everyone having a unique or every country having a unique journey. But we’ve seen laws implemented to manage how we

congregate. What activities we can do, you know how many people we can have at a wedding or a funeral. You know what protective clothing we must wear, what we can purchase at shops. There’s been limits at one stage on flour and pasta, and you know toilet paper of all things and obviously how we move around our cities, you know, public transport, and even to the point of closing cities down completely and lockdowns.

You know, governments put these measures in place to promote and support recovery and a return to a normal living and working conditions, which is the ultimate aim. The laws have been put in place to protect at-risk populations and also provide that roadmap you know, for economic recovery. In some jurisdictions, though, we’ve seen laws policed with violence, we’ve seen law taken to further or used further to target minority groups in the continuation of that sort of policing. You know, Amnesty International’s reported a variety of police actions, which would be considered to be, at the very least, human rights violations, but also there’s incidents of murder and physical assaults caused by security forces implementing Covid controls.

So under the auspices of Covid controls, we’ve seen over reaction or a heavy handedness from police forces across the world. You know, many states have used the pandemic as a pretext to introduce laws and policies that violate international law and really do roll back human rights guarantees. You know, unduly restricting the rights of freedom, of peaceful assembly and the freedom of expression as a basic human right now.

During a pandemic, having a mass protest, you know a lot of people consider to be foolish, but when a temporary law restricting human rights becomes permanent, or is policed in a way that it’s permanent, this will have a major impact on some of the population’s already experiencing discrimination. Throughout the response to Covid, you know, there’ve been accusations of police using Covid to target marginalised populations like the Romany people and other minorities in Europe.

It’s expected that when travel does start to open up, this level of control is likely to continue. You know, anything that will impact the economic return is going to be seen as a detriment, and it’ll be heavily policed. They may become more stringent on the signature societies. They seem to be posing a risk of re spreading the virus.

As you know a full economic recovery can’t be met unless we do start to open up your borders and when we start to see tourists and international students return as an example, and any groups that were perceived to be in a position that may put this at risk will continue to be targeted by the police.

Claire Johnson

0:07:04 – 0:07:20

If this higher level of control is likely to continue even after borders open, what does this mean for the traveller coming in? Are they going to be expected to adapt and comply with new laws?

Rodger Cook

0:07:21 – 0:10:16

I think you know, for the first sort of groups of travellers to start to get out there, they’re gonna feel a little bit like pioneers. Maybe going to countries that they’ve been to before. But this country’s gonna look slightly different and they will need to understand, not only the culture, will talk a little bit about culture, that they’re going to from from inherent cultural perspective, but also the new sort of change the Covid culture.

You know when travel does start to open up, we can expect that there’s going to be a raft of new laws that will apply to the traveller. There’s gonna be certain requirements that we’re gonna need before we even jump on the plane to travel to these destinations. And as usual, your ignorance is not an excuse, and travellers are going to need to be aware.

Airlines are gonna play a critical part in this. They’ll make sure that we make entry requirements prior to departure, we may need to have a vaccine passport. There’s some people for that. Some countries for that. Provide a negative test, so there’s a lot of work being done on fast turnaround test that you can take at the airport, declaring any recent travel before you can board, all these sort of things is going to come into play.

And obviously the airlines are going to have to make decisions on really complex cases, So this is all pre-departure before we even start to step into a country. But even with you know, these clear guidelines in place, it’s common for airlines to interpret requirements differently. So you might arrive at the airport thinking you’re free to travel, and the airline might actually see it differently, so it’s gonna have to be a lot of at least in the early days, there will be some trepidation around travel, and actually getting on that plane.

In some jurisdictions, we can see a different application of entry requirements between customs officials as well. And, you know, we know that restrictions can change without notice, and it’s possible that as a traveller you know, we can leave home and mid-flight, the requirements for entry have evolved, so at the border when we arrive in country, you know, the control points gonna be really critical, and I expect that we’ll see an extra layer of control as well. You know, medical testing and reviews also at the sort of point of entry.

You know, if you’re travelling multiple destinations this will simply add to the confusion, there’s likely to be an extra layer of medical clearance I spoke about. And if you’ve been to multiple countries, that will definitely add to the decision making that needs to be taken at that point. So it’s really important that if we were, we are travelling to multiple countries that we understand the requirements from the countries that we’ve been to. Even if we just transited through. Once through the border control and into the community, it’s not enough to understand the letter of the law, but also how that law is applied and the intent of the law, which can sometimes be different to how it’s really delivered, and sometimes this is referred to as the spirit of the law. And a lot of that’s going to come down to how that country’s Covid journey has been as well.

Claire Johnson

0:10:16 – 0:10:23

That ‘spirit of the law’ concept – if it’s different from the letter of the law or what you might find in your pre-travel research – how would people coming into a place know there’s a difference? Can you dive into that a bit more for us?


Rodger Cook

0:10:23 – 0:12:19

Yeah you know the intent of writing a law is that it’s fairly black and white.

You know a law is written, it’s policed a certain way. But in reality, in a lot of jurisdictions, those laws will be policed  at the really, underneath with, yeah, the police’s guys and how they observe and how they feel about policing at the time and also how that community reacts to the law or the intent of the law. And the spirit of the law is likely to be impacted by what social scientists’ calling Covid culture. You know the impact of Covid on the general population can vary from state to state and even parts of a city. You know how we manage it as a community and the changes we made to our day to day life and the way we experience loss during Covid will impact how Covid is policed. Not only by the security forces, but also by the community themselves, even now if you go into a shop and somebody isn’t socially distancing, there’s a little bit of unease. You can feel it in the room sort of thing. So you take that jurisdiction to have had a really tough Covid journey, and the way that they handle travellers when they come in is going to be a little bit different I think.

The countries that have had that major impact are less inclined to forgive a traveller if they’re slow to adapt to local requirements, or if they’re slow to understand the local Covid customs and realise that Covid Culture plus the inherent culture and the Covid journey that the traveller is gonna have to understand. You know, in jurisdictions where policing functions are disciplined and the rule of law is applied. This is likely to have very little impact. But you know, if the traveller understands the laws and are quick to adjust the culture.

In countries where policing is often less disciplined, we’re likely to see the law applied at the discretion of the officer on the ground, which which could be complex.

Claire Johnson

0:12:20 – 0:12:24

Do you have any examples of that? Where the officer is interpreting the law or applying it in a not so black and white sense, or is that more of a prediction?

Rodger Cook

0:12:25 – 0:13:14

No, we have seen examples you know I gave the quite drastic examples of Amnesty International and how the laws have been applied from through their eyes and then some of the human rights abuses and other things there. But, you know, closer to Australia, we’ve seen in Asia that, you know, one of the very popular tourist destinations that Australians like to go in Bali. You know, we’ve seen local police force making tourists pay a small fine, you know, if they’re not wearing a mask, for example, they are asked to pay a small fine and do push ups as a punishment for breaching the local Covid restrictions. So we have seen that, and I doubt that that fine is going anywhere near the actual government coffers, as I suspect that that’s being pocketed by the police force.

Claire Johnson

0:13:15 – 0:13:22

Yeah that doesn’t sound too official. What do you think are the ramifications of this sort of thing?

Rodger Cook

0:13:23 – 0:15:49

Yeah, it goes back again. It depends on the jurisdiction, but, you know, we’re likely to see corrupt police forces take advantage of Covid restrictions. We’re going to see them illicit bribes from travellers. They’re going to, you know, really benefit from confusion around the laws, they’re gonna benefit from again, the understanding of the community or not around the travellers breaches. So a traveller might be pulled up with a perceived breach of Covid with the absolute intent of the police to try and eke out some monetary benefit. So, you know basically corrupt activity.

We’d like to see that look, we are saying in that case. For example, I just gave you now, we will see them assert control on target, marginalised members of the community. The application of the rule of law, the letter of the law will be done through the prism of Covid culture.

The police force’s appetite for corruption and the tolerance of the community, to use that example with Bali, I suspect that the police are also getting locals to do push ups or pay a fine as well. I don’t think that’s necessarily just focused on the tourists, but I think there’s a real risk that tourists and other marginalised people will be targeted underneath Covid restrictions.

Now when travel does start to open up, local police control is likely to become more stringent in the belief that certain segments of society pose a risk of it reintroducing like a touch from before, and that’s going to have a negative impact on recovery. So the policing of these marginal groups, or these groups who are perceived to be a risk is going to increase and anyone, whether you’re a tourist who might be travelling to those regions or areas you may identify this. You may be aware of this, but particularly if you’re a business traveller and you’re working in the NGO sector or you’re working in media and you’re reporting on these things. It is very like that you’ll see incidents of police targeting these groups.

You know, clearly, when travel starts back, it’s a better economic outlook and there’ll be pressure to make sure that it stays open. Any travellers, any single society or issue motivated groups that will have a perceived impact on the health of the community will be the focus for security forces.

Claire Johnson

0:15:50 – 0:15:59

As you mentioned and have alluded to a couple times, the police force is playing a key role in enforcing these new rules and lockdowns. Have these new responsibilities been a drain on resources? I mean their bandwidth is finite so has this Covid policing come at a cost somewhere else?

Rodger Cook

0:15:60 – 0:19:13

Yes, it’s a tough question, and again, you know really sort of country specific. But I guess if we look at, look at the most impactful end of the spectrum and when we focus a little bit on terrorism as an example, you know, in mid-January, we saw, we witnessed a suicide bombing in Baghdad. It’s a familiar story for this part of the world unfortunately. It is something that they for many years have grown accustomed to. But what’s significant was that these two explosions, which killed 32 people, was that Islamic state claimed responsibility.

And what that means is you know, Islamic state was supposedly beaten apart from a few splinter cells that remain way back in 2017. But these sorts of attacks that help to embolden their supporters, it helps from a propaganda perspective. It helps to recruit people. And during the pandemic we’ve seen people forced away out of the Mosques back into their homes and online. Now this removes those people who are at a potential for being radicalised, it removes them from the moderators who they have access to. It removes them from the sof tpolicing, the community type policing that they’re used to or that is employed to try and and target these people who are you know, a potential for radicalisation. So when we see these attacks which lead and feed into the propaganda machine and then during the pandemic police resources that had been redirected from community policing, which which help to mitigate the risk. You know, we don’t see that policing. Instead, we see the other side. You know, we start to see heavy handed policing of these same groups. So you know, the community policing actions is limited by the need to be socially distanced. The programmes that established to help identify and reach out to at risk individuals have definitely been shut down and so the softer side of policing is gone.

Now the at-risk young people who, and they are being heavily police in the name of the  pandemic, they’re forced indoors online, social monitoring and access to monitors removed, as I said, and there’s a real risk of radicalisation on obviously the potential for further attacks, particularly in Europe and Africa.

Police forces continue to work at managing the online radicalisation, but what we’ve seen during this pandemic is a lot more nefarious activities that occur, thrive in the online environment. You know we have terrorism in one area and then we also have to talk online, is cyber crime and we’ve seen reports that cyber crime has increased 90% during the pandemic, which is crazy sort of numbers. But this comes out of Crowe UK, one of the leaders in fraud, resilience and fraud awareness programmes. So those cybercriminals really do take advantage of the redirection of police force resources and they also take advantage of confusion. And we’ve seen that clearly and that will continue to be an issue. And will definitely target the travellers when they do start up again.

Claire Johnson

0:19:16 – 0:19:26

Now for my last question, if we start to see travel begin towards the end of this year and early into 2022 – what is a key piece of information you’d want to share with those first travellers setting back out?

Rodger Cook

0:19:27 – 0:22:10

Look, I think understanding the risk of a depressed economy. So we know that when the economic conditions are poor we see an increase in theft, robberies, corruption, fraud, cybercrime, you know all these things that will have an impact on a traveller.

You know, cyber-crime and fraud now make up 50% of all crime. So this has been a huge change. So we need to understand, as a traveller, we may have gone to this destination numerous times before, but what journey have they been through from a Covid perspective? What impact has that had on the economy? What impact has that had on the populace?

You know, we’ve seen and will continue to see a surge in cyber-crime. You know we’ll, see them target travellers with fake health alerts and advice and, you know, trying to get personal data. So we need to be careful with what personal information we provide and on what system it’s on.cyber criminals will produce websites, messages and e-mails that look really official, requesting personal information. But make sure, you know, if you’re ever asked that you confirm that’s legitimate.

Where travellers may have felt comfortable travelling to a colourful destinations and colourful destinations are great you know, when we look at the Mexico, Latin America, the Golden Triangle, which the North Americans like to call it down there and you know parts of Africa and Asia, you know these are great destinations, and in the past we may have been a little more aware of our surroundings, we may, because we are going to a colourful destination. We just got to be more alert now.

You’ve been there before, really try and look for changes in the way people react to your presence. You know are there more people standing around touting for your patronage than usual. Is it more aggressive? You know, are the taxi drivers becoming more aggressive? Are the people in the shops being more aggressive, clearly trying to get your business? If you are travelling to a tourist centre, keep an eye out for people loitering on, be cognisant of what you leave in your hotel room, you know, we like to trust that we can leave things in a hotel room, you know, hotel safes just aren’t safe. So be cognizant of what you take on your travels and what you leave.

Before economies start to recover and tourism is back to its previous levels. It’s likely that people who are working are the sole breadwinners. And, you know, the last 12 months have really been accumulating debt. So before you might have felt safe leaving your valuables in your room, may no longer be able to do so.

And the rest, in the end, the risks to the traveller of the same. They may be more impacted by the economic impact of Covid on that country they’re travelling to, and it’s just enough to make slight adjustments and increase the level of awareness to provide yourself a little bit more protection when we travel.

Claire Johnson

0:22:10 – 0:22:17

Well that’s all for this episode of Navigate. Rodger Cook is the General Manager of Global Security Services for World Trouble Protection. Rodger. Thanks for your time and sitting down with us today.

Rodger Cook

0:22:17 – 0:22:20

No worries at all, Claire. Thank you.

Voice Over

0:22:20 – 0:22:49

Thank you for listening to this episode of Navigate. The World Travel Protection podcast that steers you in the right direction, helping you explore the world safely.

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When COVID-19 hit in early 2020, the world as we knew it changed overnight.

In this episode on the impacts of COVID-19, we focus on travel and tourism – one of the biggest sectors to be hit by the pandemic and imposed COVID travel restrictions around the globe.

Joined by World Travel Protection’s security expert Rodger Cook, our host Claire Johnson dives into the impacts of COVID on travel and what to expect as borders begin to reopen.

While commentators predict that significant international travel for leisure won’t really commence until 2022, Cook warns that even the most seasoned travellers will be shocked by how much the pandemic has changed the landscape – and we need to prepare for it.

Why? Even destinations we once knew well may look very different thanks to the varying economic and health impacts of the pandemic, on top of the widespread development of new laws to stop its spread.

From global security and local laws to cybercrime and the vaccine rollout, we discuss how you – the traveller – should anticipate these changes, and how you can manage these new travel risks before you even head to the airport.

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