While buyers can access a growing range of risk management services to help reassure staff, travellers also need to play their part
According to research undertaken by the GBTA Foundation, 45 per cent of business travellers view terrorism as the greatest safety risk they face on the road, followed by street crime (15 per cent), illness/disease outbreaks/ sanitation (13 per cent) and property crime/ theft (12 per cent).
“Keeping travellers safe on the road is a prime responsibility for travel professionals and understanding road warriors’ anxieties about travel, as well as communicating the available risk protocols and assistance services, can go a long way towards building an effective risk management programme,” says GBTA executive director and chief operating officer Michael McCormick.
Further GBTA research shows the vast majority of business travellers feel their companies take duty-of-care seriously. But access to risk management services is far from universal: roughly one-third of German, French and UK business travellers say their organisations do not provide an assistance hotline to call in an emergency or unexpected event.
There is no longer such a thing as a “safe” destination with threats ranging from terrorism and disease to extreme weather and social unrest. Preparation is all. Events management company Imagination has a new relationship with TMC Reed & Mackay and they agreed that a reputable source of travel risk information should be available to its travellers. Information from risk management company Ijet is embedded into the travel process and is available on a mobile app, alongside alerts and hazard information.
“We wanted our people to acknowledge they have read and understood the travel risks when they have booked a trip. Now, we have global insight into the travel and risk profile, which means we can proactively have conversations with teams on travel risk,” says Megan Langtip, group head of health and safety at Imagination.
It is, however, difficult to ensure travellers have read your risk policy, according to Chris Job, chief operating officer at global security consultants Drum Cussac Group.
“One of our clients said, ‘We develop and encourage a culture of compliance through security enablement so that people realise we are not here to frustrate, we are here to help, and they are compliant because we are helpful’,” he notes.
The first task is to define risk. This differs according to the destination, the sector in which the traveller works in, how experienced the traveller is, and more. Drum Cussac codes risk from green through red and defines it on a scale of 1 to 5, moving in increments of 0.25. “This allows us more nuances. Having to push it from, say, level 3 to level 4 could have implications for how a client operates if they impose a travel ban at level 4,” Job says.
Drum Cussac has five categories of risk: security, political, infrastructure, medical and environmental and breaks each of these down further. Under political comes corruption, rule of law, government stability and sanctions, for example.
However, travellers should also do their own research. Just as a company has a duty-of-care to look after employees, so do they have a reciprocal duty-of-loyalty. Included in this is being informed. Risk management specialists will have destination information on their websites and employers may have comments and links on an intranet. High-profile events are not the only threat. “It is also important to consider incidents such as medical emergencies, accidents while travelling or every day illness, effects of jetlag, lost luggage,” says Paul East, chief operating officer, UK/Europe & Americas for Wings Travel Management.
Medical screening before departure is a tricky but essential area. People are not always honest about their state of health but if an existing condition flares up while travelling, or they lose vital medication, they will need help. Companies that have an occupational health department may be better equipped to have such conversations.
Technology also plays a part, but traveller tracking is just a starting point. “Corporates need to ensure all their travel is booked according to policy, so that employers or their TMC can immediately pull reports on where travellers are located,” says East. “Traveller tracking should be in place as a bare minimum, but for clients operating in the oil and gas sector, for example, who are frequently going to high-risk destinations, then a comprehensive risk management and safety plan will be a given.”
A safety and security mobile app can contain vital information about a destination, GPS to allow real-time identification of travellers’ whereabouts and an OK button, so that employees can instantly let their manager/risk management company know they are fine. In an event of more urgency, “a telephone symbol in our app calls us direct and an SOS button contacts us in five seconds and we ring back”, says Drum Cussac’s Job.
Clarity also has a relationship with Ijet and its Go2Track app provides GPS tracking, trip booking information and updates, and the ability to contact Clarity 24/7. Destination information and alerts are sent to employees while they are travelling, with analysis of events and advice. Travel managers can use the app to communicate directly with affected travellers.
In the event of an incident, a risk management company needs to know it can act without hesitation, so having an insurance policy that covers that is crucial, so that there is no hold-up while a crisis management team decides whether or not they want to spend the money. “That is why I believe in having insurance as an integral part of risk management; it speeds up the action when you need it most,” says Job.
When events are predictable, travellers need to use common sense. Someone taking a trip to the Caribbean in September should know a hurricane is possible and be primed to react accordingly. “One caller from the area in September last year said, ‘The storm is due in two hours, can you get me out?’,” says Job. “We had been posting alerts as soon as the storm was on the radar and updating people as it picked up power.”
Drum Cussac had also warned that there would be no power after the storm and that anyone planning to stay should be well provisioned. Ironically, he says, “we had a plane they could get on but they couldn’t get themselves to the airport”.
Debriefing travellers can be carried out online via an automated email: let us know anything you noticed while travelling. If polled within days of their return, the response will be accurate and fresh, and ensures companies are kept up to date about changes in mood or local behaviour, which is valuable feedback from someone who visits the same areas regularly.
After an incident, face-to-face debriefing is essential, to assess what lessons can be learned, with attendant adjustments to policy or whether a number of policy changes would make any difference. It may also highlight where policy could better cater for inexperienced travellers.
Risk management is not just duty-of-care; it is a commercial imperative. Risk management equals reputation management. “If one of your employees is kidnapped during a business trip and you have not taken sufficient steps to mitigate that risk and protect his or her safety, then not only have you failed in your basic duty-of-care responsibilities to your employees but such a situation will grab headlines in the press and impact negatively on your company’s reputation,” says Wings’ East.
If there were any doubt, there is evidence the converse is true: “In our extensive experience with our clients, we see that companies with more mature risk management practices outperform their peers financially,” writes EY in its report Turning Risk into Results. The firm’s research suggests this translates to a competitive advantage: companies in the top 20 per cent of risk maturity generated three times the level of EBITDA as those in the bottom 20 per cent.
Capita Travel and Events’ new approach to risk analysis, Smarter Working, brings together statistics from different parts of a business to gain better insight. This embraces HR, including absenteeism, age profile of travellers, gender and how long they have worked for the company; travel data, expense, fleet mileage information, plus third-party data, such as crime reports.
“This allows us to build up pictures of cause and effect that were not visible,” says chief commercial officer Trevor Elswood. “The tenet of Smarter Working is to put safety and wellbeing at the centre of things.”
Proof of the pudding came in the form of a client company that had put a ban on travel one month of the year and wanted to understand whether it was effective. “Air and rail travel had come down during that month, but road mileage had shot up disproportionately,” says Elswood. “This had reduced costs but we showed the amount of unproductive time there was by moving from rail to car. People were undertaking numerous trips of more than 300 miles in a day with no accommodation. This was not intended.”
Other areas reassessed included extending no-driving policies to business trips on domestic flights, which might involve a 16-hour day; absenteeism when related to certain types of travel, and total trip cost.
“The more data you put into the blender, the more you can ask of it to create a better-informed approach to travel and risk policy,” Elswood says. “By blending rich data sources from different stakeholders, we were able to measure the possible results of the law of unintended consequences.”