New security and health risks, plus a constant threat of travel disruption, mean many employees are reluctant to get back on the road. The duty of care is on risk managers to proactively plan for their safest possible travels.
Geopolitical tensions, pandemic fears and rising natural catastrophes have all contributed to an ever-more complicated landscape of travel threats that need to be mitigated.
At the same time, methods of travel have also evolved as employees have been looking for more sustainable choices to support the shift to net zero.
Organisations that do not manage these exposures for their employees will be clearly failing in their duty of care obligations. This could have severe consequences including legal, financial and reputational damage.
Holly McGurk, security director, intelligence at International SOS, says: “The conflict in Ukraine caused a ripple effect on travel for surrounding countries, in addition to Ebola, monkeypox, COVID-19, monsoons and hurricanes impacting locations around the world.
“While the ease of travel improved, business leaders are evaluating how travel, both domestic and international, fits back into their travel risk management plans.
”As the risks for travellers are expected to change, so should organisations’ corporate travel risk management plans.”
”The necessity of travelling for business meetings was scrutinised. Flying cross-country for a two-hour meeting has become an anomaly. As the risks for travellers are expected to change, so should organisations’ corporate travel risk management plans.”
Kate Fitzpatrick, regional security director, EMEA, at World Travel Protection, adds: “For some, the return to business travel has been hard, and this has not been helped by the constant threat of disruption to the best-laid plans.
“It’s essential, therefore, that business travellers feel their employer is supporting them and looking out for their best interests while they’re away.”
Know the terrain
Comprehensive travel risk management involves anticipating threats, developing appropriate mitigation measures, and effectively communicating this to employees.
To achieve this, risk managers and the organisations they work for should have incident management and emergency plans in place, which must be reviewed and tested on a regular basis.
They also need to help employees prepare for business travel, by providing them with timely, trustworthy intelligence.
In turn, employees need to consider the political and security risk landscape in their intended destination and understand the prevalence of risk incidents such as theft, assault, kidnapping, terrorism, civil unrest and political instability.
“Employees may be exposed to infectious diseases and illnesses that are not prevalent in their home country.”
In many destinations, these risks can be effectively mitigated with a combination of information, support, and appropriate transportation and accommodation arrangements.
Assessing the medical risk landscape before travelling is also essential. This allows enough time to prepare for any required vaccinations and medications well in advance.
It also means that a plan can be put in place if an employee needs medical treatment in a country where the health infrastructure may be very different to their country of residence.
McGurk says: “Employees may be exposed to infectious diseases and illnesses that are not prevalent in their home country. Access to quality medical facilities may also be challenging in some countries, especially in remote locations.
“Employees should have access to a provider who can advise them of an appropriate facility that provides quality medical care.”
ISO 31030: YOUR TRAVEL GUIDE
The launch of ISO 31030 means risk managers now have guidance on how to proactively predict and manage travel risks.
The new travel risk management document provides a structured approach to the development, implementation, evaluation and review of:
- Programme development
- Threat and hazard identification
- Opportunities and strengths
- Risk assessment
- Prevention and mitigation strategies
International SOS’s Holly McGurk says: “Internal compliance – from booking trips aligned to policy, to staying at a safe accommodation that has been vetted – will be critical.
”As an organisation, the duty of care for employees is paramount. Proactively managing evolving travel risks should be a pivotal part of travel risk management.”
Healix’s Chris Job adds: “Using a proactive risk assessment strategy framework such as ISO 31030 will quell any pre-travel nerves as companies can demonstrate compliance with ‘best practice’ benchmark for travel risk management.
”Prevention is always better than a cure, and showing you’ve anticipated and mitigated all possible risks can also build employee trust.”
A survey for World Travel Protection found employees are well aware of the dangers of business travel in 2023.
Despite travel restrictions easing, only 20% of employees said they were happy to be travelling for work again.
Just less than a fifth (18% are now more concerned about their health and well-being while travelling, with this figure rising to 24% of over 55s.
“Any nerves are likely a result of the increased risk-aversion bred during the lockdown”
Business interruption is also causing concerns, particularly with regards to ongoing travel disruptions and airport staff shortages. This will have a knock-on effect on organisations, particularly those that operate internationally.
The study found that 12% of employees said they will now refuse to travel to places they deem unsafe and 11% would refuse a work placement abroad as they feel there are too many risks.
International SOS’s Risk Outlook 2023 study found that the top factors expected to decrease employee appetite for travel in the next 12 months are:
- Travel disruptions
- Concerns about geopolitical threats
- Travel bans to specific countries
- Concerns around COVID-19
- Concerns around security threats
Risk managers must therefore consider not just business travel risks, but also the threat of mental ill health among their employees, particularly given the growing nervousness around business travel.
Chris Job, director of risk management at Healix, comments: “Any nerves are likely a result of the increased risk-aversion bred during the lockdown, fuelled not only by the relative safety of home during a global pandemic but also the increasing geopolitical tensions, natural disasters, and other risk factors.
“It’s essential that business travellers feel their employer is supporting them and looking out for the best interests while they’re away.”
“But travel remains necessary and has historically been a draw for top talent, so risk managers should try to do what they can to assuage these anxieties.”
World Travel Protection’s Fitzpatrick adds: “To mitigate risk and alleviate concerns, organisations should ensure that travelling employees are provided with the most up-to-date information on destinations and travel routes, and consider using a travel assistance company with a live travel app that provides assistance updates in real-time.
”It’s essential that business travellers feel their employer is supporting them and looking out for the best interests while they’re away.”