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Blinkered by Covid-19: How to mitigate risks for business travel  

Scott Sunderman, Managing Director for Medical and Security Assistance at Collinson reminds us that there is a shared responsibility when it comes to mitigating risk and he suggests that approaches to managing travel risk should be holistic, appropriate and offer clear guidance for travellers.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, travel on both a business and leisure front has proved incredibly challenging, thanks to the diverse and rapidly changing rules and regulations imposed by governments across the world, resulting in complexities and border closures for travellers. As businesses begin to contemplate a return to travel in the wake of Covid-19, many (including some of Europe’s largest banks) are considering significantly cutting the number of business trips that employees make, a move which is feasible for some types of businesses, but less so for others.
Our research shows that more than four in five business travellers globally have seen their job negatively affected by a reduction in cross-border travel. We also know that even when business travel returns, Covid-19 will have changed the landscape for the foreseeable future – creating a heightened risk agenda. From an increase in criminality and scams to ever-changing travel restrictions and resulting travel complications, Covid-related complications are inevitable. Businesses must therefore continue to ensure that their Travel Risk Management (TRM) programme is robust and fit for purpose, taking into account both pre-pandemic ‘normal’ travel-related risks, and the risks and complexities that are new and unique to the pandemic era.

This is why the advent of a new international standard, ISO 31030 Travel Risk Management Standard, could not have come at a better time. TRM is firmly on the C-suite agenda, to the extent that travel requests often require board-level approval. As organisations prepare for a safe return to business travel, ISO 31030 sets an international benchmark for companies to create and review their TRM programmes – helping them not to be blinkered by Covid at a time when the new risk agenda is more challenging than ever before.
How then, can travellers and travel management teams embrace the new standard to best protect themselves and their businesses once travel resumes? 
Take a holistic approach to risk 
ISO 31030 reinforces the importance of organisations taking a more holistic ‘before, during and after’ approach to business travel. Unfortunately, the changes brought about by the pandemic have meant that many of the solutions used in the past may no longer be appropriate. For example, destinations that were previously deemed to have good quality infrastructure, which traditionally presented a ‘lower risk’ to travel, may now present new risks and considerations because of the additional strain being placed on their medical infrastructure, and the reduction of medical support and resources owing to Covid-19.
Solutions could include the following approaches:

  • Ahead of a trip, an organisation’s travel manager should provide the employee with a checklist of requirements for the journey, from risk assessment forms to tests and vaccinations. An updated emergency evacuation plan should be in place for each destination on the trip, with proximity to the nearest clinic and airstrip included. Contingency plans are essential to allow for any unexpected turn of events;
  • During a trip, companies must continue to monitor all of the points mentioned above, to ensure a swift response in the event of unexpected changes. For long-term business secondments, a constant review of the medical care available is also needed, taking into account medications that could be in short supply, or not available in the destination country, and regular psychological health checks – such as counselling – are also key to reassuring employees in their working environment; and
  • After a trip, organisations should continue to ensure that employees have access to tools that support their physical and mental wellbeing. Detailed post-trip reports from the employee can provide key learnings on elements such as the effectiveness of the assistance programme and feedback regarding transport and accommodation, which could help with future planning.  

Focus on the specific requirements of your organisation and its travelling employees
Every organisation and business trip is different. The needs and details associated with each one therefore have to be considered accordingly, with appropriate planning and permissions in place. 
It’s also vital to understand what is needed for your specific travelling employees – and to remember that the pandemic poses greater risks to certain individuals with pre-existing medical conditions.
Possible solutions: 

  • Due diligence is required for each trip, which should be assessed on its own merits, and must ensure that the right measures have been considered for a safe and seamless journey, based on the needs of each individual employee; and 
  • The best TRM programmes will not presume to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Given the variance in destinations, TRM programmes must be able to adapt accordingly, in order to meet the needs of both the employee and the company. Travel managers should ensure that they leverage third-party expertise to help with the more complex aspects of TRM, and that both the organisation and the individual have all the up-to-the-minute information and support they need. 

Empower your people 
Employees who need to travel for work should be able to do so with confidence, knowing that their company is providing them full support. A survey we conducted of business travellers prior to the pandemic revealed that while half of them knew their employer had invested in some form of travel programme to support them on the road, 51 per cent of those weren’t sure what it actually meant or entailed. Of those who knew they had this support, only a fifth actually felt confident using those services in the event of something going wrong while abroad.

Ideas to address this include: 

  • Tracking solutions, combining itinerary and geo-location tracking, should be part of a robust TRM programme, to ensure employees receive critical support should an unexpected event or emergency occur. Finding the right balance between protecting employees’ privacy and ensuring they have essential protection is essential. Companies can ask permission before putting tracking measures in place and make it clear that in the case of geo-location, employees are not being monitored 24/7;
  • Employee privacy can also be adhered to on the health front, by enlisting the services of a third-party medical provider to evaluate their medical history. In doing so, details on any pre-existing medical conditions remain private, while the employee is granted the protection they deserve ahead of a business trip; and
  • Actively involving employees in a robust travel risk management programme is key to success. Communication is an essential part of this, allowing the employee to understand the support mechanisms in place, so they can be better equipped to deal with travel in the Covid-19 era and handle issues that may arise on a business trip – from lost luggage to a major medical emergency.     

Getting business travel back on track will require a strong focus on employee wellbeing. In addition to having adequate support, employees must also clearly understand what resources are available, so they have the confidence they need to feel safe to travel.

Although it may take a while, business travel will no doubt return – and when it does, companies need to be ready. Covid-19 has underlined the importance of health and safety in the workplace; this should also be extended to travelling employees. With the imminent arrival of the new ISO 31030 TRM standard, now is the time for companies to make sure their travel risk management programmes are up to standard. 

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