Is duty of care adequately considered in domestic travel?


Political tension, social unrest, terrorism, kidnapping, accidents and disease are just a few of the things that can impact on a business traveller. As a result, companies are placing more emphasis on risk management and duty of care. Liesl Venter finds out if it applies as much to domestic travel as it does to international.

Travel always involves risk. By its very definition, it requires people to enter the unknown and deal with the unfamiliar.

“Already one understands why duty of care gets more attention from an international travel perspective than locally,” says Howard Stephens, chairman of the Global Business Travel Association. “We assume people understand and know their own country. We also assume that travellers have a general awareness of the local risk and are therefore less likely to be hurt or endangered.”

Monique Swart, founder of the African Business Travel Association, says in general, people feel far safer locally than internationally when they travel as they are in their comfort zones.

“I also think that we have some preconceived ideas that can get us into trouble,” she says. “Statements such as ‘Cape Town is safer than Joburg’; ‘Nothing bad will happen as I’m travelling by day’; ‘Travelling in groups keeps me safe’; ‘Men are safer than women when travelling’ or ‘Travelling to my home town is safe as I know my way around’ might generally be true, but companies tend to rest on their duty-of-care laurels from a domestic perspective because of these kinds of assumptions and false sense of security.”

Swart, like Stephens, is adamant that duty of care in domestic travel needs to be a higher priority.

“Anything bad can happen to anyone – at any time, anywhere in the world and it is more likely to happen to those unprepared,” says Swart.

Being prepared locally is therefore just as important as being prepared when abroad.

Duty of care, however, is not only about ensuring employees arrive safe and sound. At heart, it is about ensuring employees are managing safety risks throughout their trips, says Frank Palapies, coo of Wings Travel Management.

“Duty of care, however, has different interpretations in different companies and there is no standard definition that is applied. In some companies it simply means knowing where travellers are while in others, it comprises all aspects of risk management.”

Often, however, discussions around a corporate’s duty of care focuses on issues like natural disasters, terror incidents and kidnapping. But it is in the less dramatic that the far more frequent incidents occur, says Stephens. 

“General risks for a traveller are not necessarily all that different locally. Car accidents and medical incidents are far more likely to happen in domestic travel,” he says.

Add to that the loss of productivity due to travel delays, or lost luggage and the resulting loss in productivity of an employee, and duty of care becomes just as important from a domestic perspective as an international one.

“Duty of care should not just be about what happens to your traveller in the case of an unforeseeable event,” says Stephens, “but ensuring that you are managing the safety and wellbeing of employees throughout their trips.”

 

Increased focus

Duty of care domestically is increasingly getting attention, says Palapies. “We are seeing companies, where travel is predominantly in South Africa, show more interest in traveller risk management and safety support. It is still very sector-dependent and also about where they are travelling to in the country and how often.”

For Swart, it is important that duty of care gets more attention locally. “As much can happen here in South Africa as abroad; it just means that it is probably easier and less expensive to deal with locally. But there will still be hassle and expense! Also, don’t forget about international visitors coming to South Africa. If one of your German staff members get into trouble on your watch in Cape Town, the damage can be severe – not to mention the cost of getting him/her home to Germany if they are injured, or worse.”

According to Palapies, travel is a genuine concern, no matter where in the world, and most companies are best advised to have some duty-of-care policy in place.

“It does not have to be complex at all but don’t be complacent,” he says.

Swart agrees, saying often the investment in a duty-of-care programme locally is a grudge purchase. “No one wants to pay for something they might never need, but what if you do and you don’t have it? It’s about weighing up the pros and cons – i.e. having it and not needing it versus needing it but not having it. This is where I think companies often go wrong; where they severely underestimate what could go wrong and how to be covered for it.”

Ultimately, it is essential that duty of care improves locally, says Stephens. “It is important that the corporate and the traveller know which insurances are going to cover what incidents and who is responsible for additional costs and payments.”

It is in the lack of policy or communication that misunderstandings occur and assumptions are made, he says. “It is in everyone’s interest that there is a proactive approach to this issue rather than reactive.”