Travel Security Case Study – Lochte Up Abroad

A Case for Travel Security

When I first heard the reports that members of the US swim team were pulled out of their taxi on 13 AUG and held at gunpoint by guys with badges until the swimmers paid them money I shook my head with knowing disapproval.  An incident such as this is the exact reason why travel security measures should be taken when travelling abroad.

The morning after the incident US Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte was interviewed on NBC’s Today Show and told them that he and other swimmers were on their way home when they were approached by guys who flashed badges, put a gun to his forehead, and demanded money.  To myself and other travel security experts the story had all the hallmarks of targeted street crime abroad.

Travel Security Planning Prevents You From Being A Crime VictimTravel Security

I started checking off the items that a professional travel security plan would have addressed.  First, trusted transportation.  Either a trusted car service, or a rental car with a trained driver removes the possibility of the taxi “running out of gas”, breaking down, making unplanned stops, or deviating from planned routes.

Second, a travel security agent to accompany the swimmers would have maintained situational awareness and likely realized something was amiss before they found themselves at gunpoint.  I’m not blaming the victims, it’s understandable, they’ve  trained for years to compete in their event, which they did successfully, and then it was their time to celebrate.

That was the blog I was preparing to write until the story of the swimmers continued to unfold.  It was discovered that Lochte was inebriated, the swimmers urinated in an alley behind a gas station, vandalized a bathroom, and tore down a sign.  The guys with badges were security guards. The incident changed from the swimmers as victims, to ugly Americans acting like privileged drunken frat boys.

Lochte left the country and two other swimmers were removed from a plane to be questioned by Brazilian police.  The other swimmers have since been released (with one making a $10,000 donation to an unnamed Brazilian institution) and Lochte has been dropped by four of his sponsors.

Good Travel Security Can Save A Client From Themselves

Sometimes the greatest threat to the client can be the client themselves. A sober, alert, travel security agent could have steered the swimmers away from not only dangerous areas and situations, but also prevented them from vandalizing a gas station bathroom. Even if unsuccessful at herding four drunks on the streets of Rio at 5:00 AM, the agent could have facilitated the interaction with security guards; possibly preventing the entire incident from becoming public.

A week later, the story continues to develop. It was reported on 22 AUG that there are some questions in the story that was offered by the Brazilians. An investigation found no evidence of any vandalism to the gas station bathroom and the sign that was torn down appears to have been an advertisement poster.

But none of that matters now.  The truth is somewhere between the differing accounts, perception is reality, and right now the world thinks Ryan Lochte and the other swimmers got drunk, damaged some property and then fabricated a story about being robbed to cover it up.

Good travel security can be expensive, but in light of losing his sponsorships, Mr. Lochte might have preferred to have an angel on his shoulder keeping him out of trouble.