Lines of duty
Duty of care has grown in significance amid Covid and TMCs are responding, says Gill Upton
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2017 was a wake-up call for many corporates in terms of the health and safety of their employees. With no upper limit set on penalties, the act prioritised employee welfare. Five years on, the complexities of travelling in the Covid age have renewed that impetus.
Corporates were already demanding reports to flag up road warriors taking too many red-eye flights or multiple back-to-back trips. Today employers need to instil confidence in their travellers by minimising travel stress, which means 24/7 support, instant travel alerts and constant contact throughout the journey by email, SMS, social media and phone. Companies need to know if border controls have changed, for example, and support their travellers with relevant information. All this has served to reinforce the value of the TMC.
“Some road warriors can’t wait to get back but there are those who don’t ever want to get back and would prefer to walk their lockdown puppy”
”TMCs are the great simplifiers of the complex and can help put their arms around it,” says ITM CEO Scott Davies.
Industry observers believe incentives and schemes such as gamification may return to cajole reluctant travellers. “Some road warriors can’t wait to get back but there are those who don’t ever want to get back and would prefer to walk their lockdown puppy,” says Simone Buckley, VP Marketing EMEA at TripActions. TripActions is using free UberEats as an incentive to get their own staff to return to TripActions offices.
“You need to give people time,” adds Buckley. “They have changed their work-life balance during Covid and there is a moral obligation not to put people under pressure to travel again.”
ITM’s Davies believes the definition of duty of care has widened during Covid to a traveller’s work-life balance, prompting a more gently, gently approach, which has triggered innovation and fresh demand for different services.
Midas Travel, for example, has noted an upsurge in the use of Fastrack VIP, meet and greet, chauffeurs and private jets. The company’s online booking tool now displays a ‘joy factor’ offering a rating based on comfort, ease and value. Clients are requesting access to duty of care platforms to assess risk levels, track travellers and to keep in touch.
The TMC has also augmented its existing country risk profile maps to show Covid restrictions. “Technology has adapted to incorporate the new requirements,” says Nicola Cox, Director. “And travellers need more info on the go than ever, so mobile apps have also seen a resurgence.”
At the Focus Partnership of 49 mainly business-focussed TMCs, PinPoint was launched in 2021 to provide travel tracking and an update this spring provides a Brexit report to check which travellers are reaching their 90-day limit for travel in the EU.
“Following Covid, corporates are really taking this seriously,” says Dani Ives, Focus Partnership Project Manager.
Last month TripActions launched a wellness dashboard which shows number of hours flown, type of flight and class of travel and allows a corporate to set flight limits per traveller. “You could drill into the data before but now the demand is for automatic reports,” explains Buckley.
Agiito has effectively replaced the client company intranet with a portal that hosts wellbeing and health tips for downtime, such as walking options at destinations.
Information and advisory are the buzzwords. “We’re back to more business as usual and both parties need to look at what good looks like. In an ideal world you don’t create traveller burn-out and we’re guiding employees to take the best options,” says Steve Banks, Agiito CCO.
Reed & Mackay is doing something similar, says Ian Ferguson, Partner, Advisory Services. “We increased our point-of-sale health and wellbeing intelligence, partnered with numerous specialists to create an ecosystem of care for our clients and increased our Incident Management resource.”
The TMC also created an Advisory Services division to help clients navigate the complex landscape via various modules, including a traveller hearts and minds analysis and a 30-point policy benchmarking for post-Covid travel service.
Agiito is busy revising policies so they dictate items such as no car hire allowed after alighting from flights of 10 hours or more and the pros and cons of day versus night flights.
“We’re challenging clients to ask whether the policy is allowing travellers to be refreshed and able to work,” adds Banks.
He points to improvements in the supply chain, such as hotel programmes with wellbeing at their heart offering good leisure facilities and female traveller awareness programmes. Ultimately he predicts that duty of care in this new Covid era will see travel policies become selling tools in recruitment programmes. “Travel allows people to do their jobs and candidates want to know the class they can travel before they decide whether to join a new company.”
Travelling execs are also expecting TMCs to provide a similar booking experience to the one they enjoy outside the workplace.
“The corporate travel sector has been a bit behind the B2C world in this respect,” says Flight Centre CTO EMEA, David Owens.
With this in mind, FCm and sister TMC Corporate Traveller have been developing their respective platforms to give users the freedom to book through the likes of Expedia and booking.com but with the duty of care controls, tracking and reporting that travel bookers require.
“Travel allows people to do their jobs and candidates want to know the class they can travel before they decide whether to join a new company”
David Zimmer, Global Head of Travel Experience & Optimisation for CWT, says technology is playing a key role.
“We’ve created hybrid human-bot messaging capabilities that go beyond ‘pure chat’ and leverage both the speed of an AI-powered bot and the intuition of an agent to support travellers,” he explains.
“Additionally, deploying flexible connectivity technologies and API platforms allow TMCs to more easily integrate new content and services like safety and security partners and additional Covid-relevant data layers for better travel insights and decisions.”
AI capabilities, such as machine learning and natural language processing, are also helping CWT to quickly identify and interpret instantly the urgency and intent of a call, email or message.
But Zimmer admits human connectivity is also vital. “A well-connected, professional and empathetic travel counsellor can make the difference between a good trip and a challenging one, particularly when the travel environment is so changeable,” he adds.