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For Business, Corporate Travel & Meeting Buyers & Arrangers

Ask the Experts: risk and the female traveller

Female business traveller

Do travel programmes need female-specific policies?

Travel buyers discussed their programmes at a GBTA conference session in Boston on risk management for female travellers. It cited Maiden Voyage research showing 77 per cent of female business travellers say their firm’s travel programmes should take account of their specific needs, and a Quaynote finding that only five per cent of female travellers had received female-specific safety training.

Cindy Heston, director of travel and events at US health insurance firm Anthem, told the conference her programme includes engaging travellers in online training sessions before visiting certain destinations, plus an international cultural programme of local mentors who volunteer to meet up with visiting travellers and give them the lowdown on the local scene.

However, BBT’s experts generally do not seem keen on separate risk policies for women. They say women do not want to be differentiated. Where their requirements are different from men’s – thanks to the culture of the destination – this can be handled by a security briefing from the relevant party.

The Buyer – Ryan Taylor, group senior manager – assistance travel, International SOS
I don’t think there should be a separate policy for lone female travellers, mainly because a lot of them don’t want to be singled out. If you’re going to draw up a policy just for females, what are you going to do about LGBT travellers? 

I’m gay and a travel manager, and I have to look at my risk when I go to certain countries, and for females it’s the same. You should be assessing the risk with your security team or organisations such as International SOS to map out a risk mitigation matrix.

Before I joined International SOS, I implemented a female e-learning course for an oil and gas company. I did the course before I launched it to understand the information it was giving. There were some valid points for females but you could have given those points to any first-time travellers. When we launched the course, a lot of the females who had travelled extensively asked why we were singling them out when they went through the same process and channels as the male travellers.

It’s difficult enough to manage your travel policy as it is, never mind complicating it by singling out females. Within the oil and gas industry, there are definitely more males but there are also a lot of females going offshore. In the corporate world of International SOS, I have huge numbers of female travellers and if I were to tell some of them that we had decided to do something to single them out, it would not be well received because they travel just as much as the guys do and have their wits about them.

The TMC – Kate Wimpeney, COO, Redfern Travel
The wider risk picture should be covered with global policy regardless of gender because there is clearly some risk involved in travelling, whoever you are. But for us the differential is around vulnerability and risk perception, rather than actual, measurable risk. I speak as a lone female traveller, something I’m usually more than happy to be; it affords me private time with my Kindle, my emails and I get some early nights that I don’t seem to manage at home.

I never leave home with any trepidation and I don’t perceive risk until a moment, which happens on nearly every trip, when I have a feeling of vulnerability. It’s more about being mindful and it is different for men and women. It is about giving women a choice: if there is information available that answers some of those vulnerabilities, it’s up to them whether they engage with it but if they feel vulnerable, it’s there.

We launched SOLO last year to find the hotels that go above and beyond to meet the needs of the UK’s female business travellers. It is about being pragmatic and sensible, and there is some information that is helpful for female travellers. They can choose whether this influences their decisions or not. Men can also look at it but it is being driven by females, who nominate hotels on the Redfern website.

I don’t think it is about having a travel programme specifically for women, but I do think hotels that go the extra mile to resolve some of these vulnerabilities should be flagged within a programme so that women can make the choice.

The social network CEO – Carolyn Pearson, chief executive, Maiden Voyage
I’m a massive fan of all things to do with female business travel but I don’t think a separate policy is appropriate. The overlap between men and women is so great that there are only a few things organisations need to do to make sure they are applying the correct duty-of-care for female business travellers, and that is where they fall down.

I recently spoke at duty-of-care conference for travel risk managers, who are often male and ex-military. Quite a lot of them said: ‘we know we should be having these conversations with our female travellers but we shy away from it rather than facing it head on’ – some of them had had their head bitten off by someone who said: ‘why are you giving me this advice when you wouldn’t say this to a man?’.

It is potentially tricky ground because if something does happen to a woman that is related to their gender and their employer hasn’t briefed them or done risk assessment, they can have a case against their employer.

And in reality, if a woman reports sexual assault in the UAE, she’s liable to be arrested for having unlawful sex, or if she uses inappropriate body language or gives public displays of affection in the Middle East, she could be in danger. You risk offending the people you have gone there to do business with and losing the business deal.

It is also about training. One in four female travellers has a negative incident while travelling on business, and half of those relate to sexual harassment. We have developed e-learning modules that are gender specific: if you are travelling in this country, you may want to observe a more conservative dress code, it wouldn’t be appropriate to shake hands or initiate a handshake or make long eye contact. That will make a difference. It will enable them to reduce the risk of anything happening to them, and to have a plan B and plan C they can activate to avoid the risk escalating.

My message to employers is, have the conversation. If you have the right intention and tone, women travellers will have a more amazing business trip and be more successful. If they take offence, it says more about them than it does about you.

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