|By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles
TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 31, 2011--With drug violence on the rise in Mexico, business travelers venturing abroad might want to think twice about traveling south of the border.
That was the message from more than 570 corporate security professionals, travel managers and human resource executives who were asked to rank the greatest risk to business travelers in 2011.
The online survey conducted by International SOS, an international healthcare, medical and security company, ranked Latin America -- and Mexico in particular -- as the region that poses the greatest risk for business travelers this year.
Of those questioned, 40% identified Latin America as the region that poses the greatest risk, followed by the Middle East (31%) and Asia (20%).
International SOS said Mexico was the country most often researched on the company's website by its members in 2010, followed by India.
Company spokesman Pablo Weisz said most of the victims of the violence in Mexico have been people directly involved in the drug trade who lived primarily in northern border region of the country.
But if business travelers must venture to the region, Weisz suggests they travel by day, spend nights on the U.S. side of the border, not deviate from established roads and not draw attention to themselves by wearing flashy jewelry or brandishing expensive cameras.
"Overall," he said, "the security risks you face are relatively small and manageable."
--Rental car firms add no-smoking policies
Rental cars can smoke, but more agencies say drivers can't.
Thrifty Car Rental and Dollar Rent a Car recently joined Avis, Budget and other national car agencies in banning smoking in their rental vehicles.
The latest policy change leaves Hertz Corp. -- the world's largest car rental agency -- as the only major car rental company to officially allow smoking in rental cars. (Hertz says you can request a "smoking designated" car, but if none are available, you won't be allowed to smoke in the car you get.)
The policies for Enterprise, Alamo and National, all operated by Enterprise Holdings Inc., remain a bit hazy. An Enterprise Holdings spokeswoman said all three rental firms offer smoke-free cars but some locations also have smoking cars. You need to call you local agency to reserve the car you want.
Meanwhile, if you light up inside a car from Thrifty or Dollar, be ready to pay a hefty fine. (Thrifty and Dollar are subsidiaries of Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc.)
The two car rental agencies are now inspecting returned cars to sniff out smoke residue. Violators of the policy face a fine of up to $250 to cover to cost of a special cleaning to remove the tobacco odor from the car's interior.
The announcement was welcome news for Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, a nonprofit group based in Berkeley. Group spokeswoman Annie Tegen said the policy shift will reduce the harmful effects of second- and third-hand smoke on car renters and will save Thrifty and Budget on cleaning costs.
"It's not only good for business," she said, "it's good for the health of consumers."
--Corporate bookings rise at O.C. resort
In another sign that businesses are spending big again on corporate travel, the luxurious St. Regis Monarch Beach is reporting a 20% increase in bookings by corporate clients in 2010 over the previous year.
The posh Dana Point resort was at the center of public backlash over corporate excess when insurance giant American International Group Inc. hosted a retreat for its top sales execs at the resort in 2008 after taking an $85-billion government bailout.
AIG is now close to paying back the bailout money, and St. Regis is once again attracting big-spending business travelers.
Resort general manager Johnny So said guests "are not willing to abandon the level of luxury they're accustomed to ... and our repeat guests understand the value provided by the St. Regis Monarch Beach and have remained loyal."
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