There are several questions to navigate when you traveling abroad. If my plane is delayed, will I miss my connecting flight? Is there anything I need to know about the political situation in the country I'm headed to? And, lately, is there a coronavirus scare or some other epidemic on the rise?
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, there were roughly 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals in 2019. That's almost 20 percent of the world's population on the go.
It’s not surprising that there’s a growing industry of travel risk management companies. They provide customers with breakdowns of events ranging from flight cancellations and natural disasters, to strikes, war and conflict, and outbreaks of disease. Some even map out high-crime areas and give a street-by-street breakdown of areas that travelers may want to avoid.
Global public health expert Dr. Ronald St. John pioneered the world's first global disease detection software, called The Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) almost 20 years ago. He is also the founder of Sitata, a travel-risk management application.
"The idea is to monitor thousands and thousands of newswire sources every five minutes," he says, "which you can do today, and prepare alerts for travelers where there is a safety issue or a health issue."
GPHIN was a revelation for its time. Numerous multinational health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rely on its monitoring.
According to WHO, "more than 60 percent of the initial outbreak reports come from unofficial informal sources, including sources other than the electronic media, which require verification."
The parallel urgency to develop a vaccine continues to gain traction in the United States. Emmie de Wit, the principal investigator at the Rocky Mountain Laboratory investigating the new coronavirus, says, “Everyone is trying to make sure that we have a treatment or a vaccine in case it blows up in the U.S,” according to the Ravalli Republic.
In 2003, GPHIN spotted the SARS epidemic in southern China long before it went on to be worldwide news.
With the global health community's eyes on the current coronavirus outbreak, travel services and apps can help ease anxiety and make planning a trip easier.
Other players, including ManticPoint, Key Travel and Athena have all grown into the space. The apps now provide background for private citizens and corporate customers alike.
"In the world today,” says Dr. St. John, “there's no place that's zero risk. But if you are knowledgeable, you can prepare yourself to avoid some of those risks."