How to protect employees from travel risk

Statistically, the risk of being caught up in an act of terror or natural disaster remain remote, but widespread political instability and a spate of recent terrorist attacks in European cities have naturally led to greater vigilance. Many individuals are now more anxious, exercising precautions to keep themselves out of harm’s way.

Companies are responsible for helping protect their business travellers from risk

Companies must protect their business travellers from the same risks, making sure they take appropriate steps to reduce risk and are fully prepared to deal with any emergency that may arise. Both travel management companies and risk management organisations are playing their part in helping to manage travel risk.

“Our role is to outline the security protocols and controls organisations should have in place, but critically also to support them in communicating and tracking staff should an incident occur. The need to have clear controls and governance in place around traveller safety and security continues to increase,” says Russell Hurst, head of client management for the UK and Ireland at American Express Global Business Travel (GBT).

Roughly one in five travellers from the UK, Germany, France, India and Singapore have had to reschedule or postpone business trips due to concerns over travel safety

In a recent survey of 2000 business travellers, GBT found that roughly one in five travellers from the UK, Germany, France, India and Singapore have had to reschedule or postpone business trips due to concerns over travel safety. And while more than eight out of ten travellers say they would know who to contact in the event of an incident, there were mixed feelings over whether employers should have greater powers to track employees’ movements.

In other words, travellers clearly acknowledge that the risks they face are rising and this is beginning to impact on their travel. But there is not yet a unified call to change the way in which businesses communicate and monitor their employees’ movements as an additional layer of protection.

Risk management programmes must work proactively and reactively

Nevertheless, companies need the right procedures and systems to manage risk both proactively and reactively. Proactive measures would address what can be done to avoid having employees caught up in dangerous situations, while reactive measures ensure a company is ready to deal with any incident that may occur.

Bruce McIndoe, president of US-based risk management company iJET International, says: “Logically a programme would look at proactive measures first, but when you’re sitting down with a company that has people travelling today, the highest priority is to make sure they have in place a clear incident response policy for what will happen if a person is injured, kidnapped or detained while abroad.”

There is no set formula for what an incident response policy should look like and different companies will inevitably need different types of policy, but certain essential ingredients are generally agreed to be paramount.

chart of business travel risks and challenges

Business travellers need to know how to handle risk themselves 

It may seem obvious, but business travellers need to know how to call for help. The number for emergency services tends to be drilled into the psyche from an early age, but step outside the home country and people often don’t know what number to dial for help.

Mr McIndoe says: “This is the most fundamental piece of any response plan – how to communicate that you need help. The number should be ubiquitous on every itinerary and communication so that employees know who to call.”

Arming the business traveller with key contact information is only part of the battle, however. Companies also need to be able to track down their staff as quickly as possible if there is any perceived or real threat to their safety.

This should be easy enough when someone is known to be at a specific location, such as an airport, office or hotel, but if an incident occurs in a location where an employee might have been, the business needs to ascertain quickly that he or she is safe and make arrangements to get them out of harm’s way.

It is here that advanced digital technology such as GPS tracking can play its part in keeping travellers connected into the network rather than having to rely on unreliable mobile phone signals or flighty employees who might look to protect themselves independently rather than checking in with their line managers.

Using technology to help track employee travel 

Matthew Pancaldi, global sales and client management director at London-based travel management company Hogg Robinson Group, believes travel alerts that can be accessed either via an online portal or a mobile device are a good way of delivering information and instructions in real time.

“If there is news of political unrest in a particular country, we will track that closely and travellers will receive regular notifications of the escalation of risk. We work with the company itself to determine how the situation should be addressed and, if evacuation or repatriation is needed, we would work with a travel risk management company to do this,” Mr Pancaldi explains.

Some companies have invested in real-time tracking devices so they can immediately establish whether their people are in a danger zone. But this only enables companies to react to changing circumstances; smarter systems will be a step ahead, monitoring traveller movements and keeping them away from emerging threats.

Companies must seek to understand their exposure and calculate the risk in advance

For this more proactive approach to work, a combination of technology and risk management expertise is needed. Companies may use apps, alerts, webchat or mobile phones to communicate with their staff, but they also need robust checklists and principles to guide pre-trip risk assessments.

“Companies must seek to understand their exposure and calculate the risk in advance. This will range from understanding an individual’s medical conditions and putting appropriate risk mitigants in place, to dealing with the security risks associated with specific destinations,” says Matthew Judge, group managing director at Anvil Group, a travel risk management company.