March 3, 2024

How to manage travel risk amid Covid

Gemma Spooner at ATPI suggests five ways travel managers can adapt to their new roles as risk managers

Organising travel is a complex business. Travel managers have the convoluted task of ensuring trips go smoothly with a certain degree of comfort, while upholding the expectation that their travellers will be kept safe. What would we do if our employees are caught up in a terrorist attack or involved in a car accident, for example?

But risk management traditionally involves more mundane considerations than that, such as only booking hotels in less dangerous parts of foreign cities for increased traveller safety.

With Covid-19 now part of everyday life, these concerns are placed front of mind but it is vital to understand that risk management and duty of care – though often interchangeable terms – are not entirely the same thing. It is the first (ie having a plan and processes in place) that satisfies the second (the ‘legal’ obligations on your company for employee wellbeing).

Getting risk management right has become much more of a moveable feast, so here are some essential steps travel managers should consider to ensure the best outcome for their business and staff:

1. Leading the way: Communication is central to everything. Firstly, staff want to know that they are being looked after and that their employer has their best interests at heart. Surveys and feedback exercises are a good way to gauge the mood of travellers and can help to shape any tweaks to policy with regards to Covid-19 safety. As travel policies develop, keeping up the dialogue will instil confidence in staff, drive compliance and support productive trips.

2. Changing times: Each person will have their own attitude to personal risk, so cannot be relied on to make decisions about their travel. Instead, travel managers must ensure a robust decision-making process that weighs the potential benefits against (likely increased) costs and alongside individual travel risk profiles. For example, staff with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or asthma are potentially much more likely to suffer should they become infected with Covid-19. The answer is to develop a ‘layered’ system of assessment that incorporates multiple approval points, shifting the permission process to one that is centred on wellbeing.

3. Safety first: Before Covid-19, travel managers would often be preoccupied with how ‘safe’ a destination was, but the pandemic has meant a new mindset is required. Every touchpoint on the journey is now a potential threat, so companies must demonstrate they are continually reviewing how employees move and where they stay. ISO 30030 will be the new standard in travel risk management and it is worth investigating if you can meet this exacting benchmark. Guidelines are coming later this year and will include assessment standards on things such as hotel security and hygiene.

4. Stay up to date: It is easy to be overwhelmed with information about Covid-19 given the global nature of the pandemic. Businesses must make sure travel managers have the best and most up-to-date advice, including on vaccinations and testing, national entry requirements and medical developments. Both TMCs and third-party companies can provide this in a streamlined and accurate way, helping to reduce misunderstanding amongst employees. For most businesses, having a tailored approach to this information which concentrates on most travelled-to destinations and methods of travel is the most sensible approach.

5. Got it covered: Emergency response plans have always been a big part of the travel manager’s role, and that is especially true today. Contingency plans must be in place to accommodate unexpected closures of borders or airspace, while solid support on-the-ground and for possible evacuation must be ready at the touch of a button. Again, this may require a streamlined process to kick these plans into action when needed, with support staff clear about what their roles are in case of emergency.

Gemma Spooner is Global Account Manager at