Opinion: Balancing corporate travel needs with duty of care

By Oz Desai, GM: Corporate Traveller

Business travellers want choice and to travel on their terms. Companies have a legal obligation (duty of care) to ensure their business travellers are safe from harm. Needless to say, the balance of both in corporate travel management is no easy business.

This is especially true as travel risks continue to dominate the agenda. Some 63% of business decision-makers perceive travel risks to have increased in the past year, according to the results of an International SOS and Control Risk survey. The Americas and Australasian regions stand out with 78% and 72% respectively reporting travel risk as a major factor in business travel during 2017.

The survey found that travel plans globally were predominantly changed due to concerns over security threats (58%), followed by natural disasters (43%). This was consistent across the globe, apart from the Americas where natural disasters ranked first and security threats second. These were followed by travel risk ratings (42%) and civil unrest (34%).

There is no denying that risks are inherent and unavoidable when employees are on the move. The world has become significantly less peaceful in the past decade, not just from a terrorism and political unrest point of view, but very much from a natural disaster and epidemic outbreak perspective. This has very much pushed traveller safety to the forefront of the agenda, in addition to the day-to-day risks faced by the travellers, such as injuries and contagious diseases.

While this has perhaps caused some amount of friction when it means giving travellers more freedom in business travel decisions, it has also meant that companies are striving to adapt to the modern traveller’s needs and expectations.

Risk response

Organisations are responding to increased risks with the introduction of risk mitigation techniques, for example.

According to International SOS, in Africa specifically, the most frequent step taken in response to travel health and security concerns was the introduction of travel risk assessment in the travel approval process, with 38% having introduced pre-trip and during trip advisory emails in 2017.

African-based organisations said that educating employees about travel risks (49%), communicating during a crisis (49%), tracking employee travel (47%) and confirming that employees had read pre-travel information (34%) were major challenges faced by their organisations in ensuring the health and security of their travellers.

Striving for Business Resilience

While the preventative agenda in medical and travel risk mitigation is clearly on the rise, the survey revealed that many organisations may be missing a strategic and far-reaching view.

Only 9% of organisations globally, updated their sustainability programme to include their travel risk policy and 10% introduced a wellbeing policy, falling at the bottom of risk mitigation techniques implemented in 2017.

According to Dr. Lunt, Medical Director Assistance & Air Ambulance at International SOS, there is a definite concern among corporate travellers about the risk of pollution in the destinations they are visiting. Something, he says, that should be a consideration in travel policy in future.

Moreover, a topic that has been highlighted frequently in recent times is the mental health of frequent business travellers. According to International SOS, about 12% of the global population will be diagnosed with major depression. To be even more specific, mental ill-health affects around three out of every five employees.

Travelling through different time zones, lack of rest and poor diet, a lack of work/life balance and social isolation from friends and family have been identified as the top stress factors for business travellers, along with having to contend with different organisational cultures or structures.

Communicate your risk management strategy to your staff

It’s important to ensure the safety of your staff whether they are working at home or travelling for business. Regularly communicating your risk management strategy and duty of care policy to your staff will make them feel more supported and valued at work. It will also help them understand the benefit of booking through your preferred TMC.

If your travellers are booking out of policy it’s worth addressing this promptly. Emphasise that it’s in their best interests, not only because in the event of an emergency your TMC can locate their itinerary data, but also because many TMCs offer a 24/7 emergency assistance line, giving your traveller just one number to ring if they need to make last-minute changes to their booking.

Remember, the most successful travel policies and crisis response plans have the support of all key stakeholders and are communicated widely and repeatedly to travellers. Your duty-of-care policy must be backed up by your travel risk management programme, otherwise both are useless.

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