Business travel remains a cornerstone of corporate operations. As such, the safety and wellbeing of employees on the move should be high on an organisation’s priority list.
As we ease back into more normal patterns of travel, we must not be complacent that it is business as usual. With evolving global situations, including transport disruptions and extreme climatic events, the landscape of travel has significantly shifted.
Moreover, personal safety concerns, especially for minority and marginalised groups, are also ever-present. An Opinium survey of 500 UK business travellers, commissioned by World Travel Protection, found that over half of business travellers (57 per cent) have experienced or witnessed negative behaviours when travelling abroad for work.
Around one in five business travellers say they have either noticed or received unwanted attention or been sidelined because of their race or gender, with women twice as likely to say this as men (16 per cent men and 31 per cent women).
Around one in seven (14 per cent) have also felt the need to hide their sexuality or have seen a colleague hide their sexuality on a business trip. Furthermore, one in ten say that they have refused or have seen someone else refuse to travel to countries with anti- LGBTQ+ laws.
Comprehensive pre-travel briefings should cover health hazards, political scenarios, natural disasters, and cultural nuances
For businesses, understanding these risks is paramount.
Organisations or institutions need to understand who their travellers are as well as where they are going and what they are doing to identify and manage risk exposures. At World Travel Protection, we do this using the model of ‘Traveller, Destination and Activity’ – this is the foreseeability of risk.
1. The traveller
While destination risks are often at the forefront, the identity of the traveller is equally crucial. Factors such as gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, race, travel experience and health conditions all play a role in the potential risks a person might encounter. It is also important to challenge preconceived views. For instance, it might be assumed that an older traveller might have more experience and need less guidance than a younger traveller, when in fact the individual might not have travelled in years.
Also, it is essential to consider the legal landscape of a destination when it comes to an individual’s identity. For example, over 70 countries criminalise same-sex relationships and we are seeing a rising tide of anti- LGBTQIA+ sentiment even in previously considered safe regions. Travellers should therefore exercise caution and awareness and this even extends to social media apps such as Grindr, Bumble, Scruff and Tinder, to name a few, which may be considered illegal and therefore can be punishable by local law.
For employers, it is crucial to gauge the comfort levels of employees before assigning them to specific destinations. When locations are deemed potentially unsafe for employees, companies should consider sending more than one representative to provide additional support.
Prioritising the safety of employees not only protects individuals but also contributes to overall organisational resilience
2. The destination
Most businesses already prioritise this aspect, but the depth can often be enhanced. Comprehensive pre-travel briefings should cover health hazards, political scenarios, natural disasters, and cultural nuances.
Active monitoring of changing situations is essential. Situations can change rapidly and events like elections or political unrest, for instance, need to be closely followed to ensure that necessary precautions are taken to mitigate risk.
World Travel Protection, for instance, offers clients a Travel Assist app providing detailed background information on destinations as well as real-time alerts and updates. Providing travellers with crucial information such as local emergency contacts or safety guidelines can further mitigate risks.
3. The activity
Understanding how a company’s operations are perceived in a destination requires introspection. Both real and perceived threats related to the company’s activities in a location should be evaluated.
For instance, a film crew making a wildlife documentary might seem an innocuous activity, but depending on the political and legal sensitivities of the subject matter, this could be a highly dangerous assignment. The team in this case might then require a detailed overview of the perceived risks and security threats, including advice on steps to take if they felt harassed or stalked; how to handle threatening text messages or emails; and lowering or even removing their profile on social media.
Similarly, a lone woman travelling to a country known to be hostile to women travellers and undertaking potentially dangerous activities requires a comprehensive risk assessment. Knowing how to dress, the safety or not of using local transport, and advice on how to behave if armed locals are encountered requires close inspection of the risk in the individual activity and steps to contain this.
The pillars of travel risk management
Once the potential risks are identified, businesses should use the model of ‘Educate, Locate, Communicate’ to prepare the travel risk management (TRM) programme:
- Educate travellers about the environment, potential risks, and safety measures in pre-travel briefings as well as ongoing monitoring
- Locate travellers using tracking tools or manual check-ins to assess their proximity to potential threats. There are several ways in which a traveller may be located, including app- or technology-based tracking tools, a manual check-in (e.g. scheduled call or message) and using their travel itinerary
- Communicate regularly and establish clear lines of contact, including traditional methods, such as phone, message, email and apps, and advanced technology solutions, including satellite phones or bespoke communications devices, as well as alternate means, such as hotel and worksite landlines. Employees should also have access to a 24/7 emergency helpline and support network, and should be encouraged to input these into phones as well as keeping a hard copy record with them.
Alongside the physical capability to communicate, there need to be relevant policies and plans in place to respond to an emergency – when communication should occur, with whom and how frequently should all be dictated in the same communications plan.
Duty of care is fundamental.
Prioritising the safety of employees not only protects individuals but also contributes to overall organisational resilience and reputation. With these key considerations in mind, organisations can navigate the complexities of business travel.
Comprehensive travel policies, covering aspects from pre-travel risk assessments to emergency procedures, should be in place and regularly updated, and an established emergency response protocol, adapted to changing scenarios like natural disasters or crises, is a must-have.
For instance, we’re seeing a rise in extreme weather events, like the recent devastating floods in Libya. A crisis can quickly escalate from a humanitarian disaster to a total breakdown in a society’s law enforcement and cultural norms. Being properly briefed and having essential information on hand is imperative for travellers in fast-moving situations.
In emphasising the safety of their employees, companies not only safeguard individual lives but also enhance their organisational resilience and reputation. By integrating these considerations, businesses can navigate the evolving challenges of corporate travel while fostering a supportive and safety-centric culture.