Security is one of the considerations when tourists are thinking of visiting Africa, and with unpredictable situations such as the recent elections in Zimbabwe, and the unrest in Mozambique earlier this year, the demand for VIP security is on the rise.

Dean Cherry, Director of Nhongo Safaris and Vice Chairman of the Gauteng Chapter of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) says: “We have seen an increase in the demand for VIP security services in South Africa, especially from the upmarket Asian, American and some European clients.” He has noticed the highest security demands coming from travellers journeying to South Africa, followed by Kenya, with an upsurge in protection requests from travellers to Nairobi.

This is echoed by Jared Higgins, CEO of Secure Drive – a member of the Arcfye Group – who adds that there has been an increase in Chinese clientele requesting security services in SA, due to the perception of the risks. “The US clients are ordinarily very sensitive to security risks,” he adds, “as are the majority of European travellers.” But he notes that those interested in travel to Africa as a whole are acutely aware of the risks, from road safety, to tourism and crime.

The security landscape

The marketplace for VIP security has changed significantly from what it was ten years ago. “Clients are looking for a different calibre of person nowadays, one who is educated and worldly and understands the different facets of providing this type of service. This is because in some situations, mitigation is better than reaction, and getting physically involved in a situation,” says Higgins.

The business sector is delivering the biggest demand for VIP security, he says. Corporates do their due diligence beforehand to ensure that the right measures are in place to protect travelling employees. “Businesses are looking at expanding the need to take the right precautions to ensure that their staff are adequately protected. If anything happens, not only would this be a tragedy, but it would reflect badly on the company.”

Security options available

There are a variety of options available, depending on whether travellers need lower or higher security, and where they are travelling to, from close protection with VIP guards around the clients, to having an armed escort with a miniature army, says Cherry. “A typical package would be inclusive of a bullet-proof vehicle, and four to five close VIP protection guards on a 12-hour rotation, with one being in the lobby of the hotel, and four being close to the room of the possible ‘high value target’.”

Higgins explains that many security service providers, including SecureDrive, offer levels of security based on these, as well as other, factors. “At the lower end of scale, a city, country or threat assessment would be done that determines the risk profile, and where the traveller is most exposed. For example, in Cameroon, with the build-up to the elections, the risk would be greater than, for instance, in Kenya, where road safety and crime are bigger concerns. So this would be entry level – understanding the potential risks – which allows the service provider to put the right measures in place.

“A level up from there we would consider basic elements around road safety – with normal transportation service providers, you ensure that drivers are trained, have a licence for standard driving, and that vehicles are maintained. The next level looks at security transportation: drivers that have been through formal defensive driver training, prevention training, first aid, and surveillance training. Then you move to executive protection, where the threat profile is great – for example, with a high-value target such as a government official or other public figure.”

Where to find a reliable security service

“Travellers shouldn’t look to the hotel that they will be staying in, as these generally don’t have a formal relationship with a security service provider. The best would be to contact a local security authority, such as the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority, to get recommendations,” says Cherry.

Higgins warns that security companies are “a dime a dozen”. “Most service providers don’t advertise, but obtain their business through word of mouth. Customers experience good service and pass the experience on to like-minded people who will be travelling to the same or similar regions; alternatively through an enquiry.

“As the world becomes a harder place to work in, and a more challenging place to visit, people are becoming more and more conscious of personal safety and security. This means going through training programmes, or partnering with a trusted security provider. We are seeing a greater demand for security services that allow travellers to enjoy their journey to the full – be it business or leisure.”