Summer is when my family takes vacations together, which is likely the case in your family as well. Most of us are routine in our wanderings, venturing to the usual tourist destinations or someplace with a beach or picturesque mountains. But for the wealthy, more exotic locales often are the destination. Not just the French Riviera, but places only the hardy would dare to tread.
Travel to underdeveloped countries is increasing in popularity, particularly among affluent millennials and members of Generation X. In fact, rather than just connecting with people in less developed parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, these tourists also want to become educated about the economic challenges they confront, with the hope that they can make a difference.
These well-intentioned travelers confront an eye-opening array of risks, from infectious diseases and acts of violence to kidnap and ransom schemes. If ill or injured, appropriate medical care in such regions may be unavailable, necessitating the need to be medically evacuated to a nearby health care facility.
Another travel trend among the wealthy is to venture to parts of the world they have yet to visit. Tourism in China, Thailand, Belize, Costa Rica, Venezuela and many other regions is rising fast. Although these nations have more sophisticated medical facilities and fast-improving infrastructures, similar risks abound.
In fact, no place is 100% safe, not even the United States. The risks of traveling most anywhere in this age of radical extremists and terrorist attacks are sobering. Even routine travel destinations like Paris, London and New York now raise a skeptical eyebrow — and should. Tourists used to flock to places like museums and ancient ruins, but the high concentrations of people make them a target for terrorists. Sadly, the term “tourist trap” now has a more ominous meaning.
To get a better sense of travel risks, I reached out to a former colleague, Diane Giles, who specializes in serving high-net-worth families and individuals at Marsh, where she is senior vice president in the insurance brokerage’s Private Client Services group. Giles agreed that travel trends such as visiting underdeveloped countries and trips to far-flung locales have become commonplace among her high-net-worth clients.
Young, Wealthy and ‘Convinced of Their Invincibility’
“They consider themselves global citizens,” Giles told me. “In addition to traveling for pleasure or on vacation, they’ll own a home in Spain, Mexico or Greece, which serves as a launch pad for forays to places that are inherently dangerous. Sometimes they fail to tell us where they’re going, particularly younger clients that are newly wealthy and convinced of their invincibility.”
Giles related the tale of one such client in his early 30s who is a coffee connoisseur passionately interested in sustainable farming methods. “He has a habit of wanting to see where the world’s best coffee is grown, which is in Africa, Indonesia and South America,” Giles said. “He recently returned home from one of his coffee excursions in Venezuela. I learned this after the fact from his financial advisor. I told her, ‘Guess which country just emerged as a top region for kidnap and ransom schemes? That’s right, Venezuela.’ He’s now been informed to contact me first before his next voyage abroad.”
Hazards Abound: Big Ones and Those More Random
Certainly, the pleasures of travel far outweigh the risks. Wanderlust is embedded in our DNA. “To travel is to live,” said Hans Christian Andersen. Sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury would agree. “See the world,” Bradbury advised. “It’s more fantastic than any dream.”
Do so, indeed. But first understand the personal risks and have a plan. Not just for the big ones like the threat of kidnapping, civil unrest or a terrorist attack, but also the random events that can occur anywhere to anyone. A friend of mine was touring Italy with her daughter recently when she fell and broke her leg. She needed immediate care at a local hospital, which refused to provide services until it had cash in hand. This resulted in an out-of-pocket cost that she was unprepared to pay. Once fitted in a cast, she wasn’t strong enough to travel home on a commercial air carrier. She had to charter a plane. Regrettably, her health insurance picked up none of these expenses.