May 28, 2024

Ready for takeoff

Dr Mark Parrish, Regional Medical Director at International SOS, shares his expertise on how businesses - large and small - can prepare for the return of international travel

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease in a number of countries and regions around the world, including here in the UK, there is now a level of optimism surrounding the return of international travel. At International SOS, our internal client data shows that, globally, domestic travel volumes in March 2021 reached roughly a fifth of their pre-pandemic levels and a similar level of activity is also occurring for international travel between certain locations.

With this shifting picture, travel managers need to have their finger on the pulse to advise on the potential to travel and be ready to mitigate disruption that travelling employees might face. Currently, both domestic and international travel remains incredibly complex and changeable as countries continue to implement different restrictions in response to Covid-19 variants.

This complexity is reflected in the enquiries we are receiving from clients. In Europe alone our Assistance Centre has observed a staggering eight-fold increase in the number of calls per 100 trips it receives.

Keep track of the rules and regulations

For those managing travel for employees, the need for up-to-date, accurate information is clear. Take the traffic light system in place in the UK, for instance. With regulations and requirements changing regularly, managers need to be constantly aware of the impact these changes could have on employees. Notable questions that will need answering include:

  • What tests are needed when travelling to green and amber-listed countries?
  • Will employees have to quarantine when returning to the UK?
  • What happens if a country changes its list status when an employee is travelling – will periods of isolation be required?
  • What is the destination’s policy for arrivals – do they require a test, double vaccination and do they even accept British travellers?
  • What happens if the employee tests positive before travel or at the destination?

Given the significant number of questions that employees are likely to have, it’s vital that travel managers can answer with clarity and encourage a confident return to travel.  

Get to grips with digital health passes

Understanding the digital health certificate options is also an important aspect of the return to travel. This technology is now frequently used to verify a traveller’s Covid-19 or vaccination status before travel and can help to alleviate delays and quarantine periods. 

For instance, the AOKpass app, which we’re proud to say we helped develop and which we believe to be the most operationally advanced, enables travellers to securely display a verified Covid-19 test result or vaccination record to airline and border officials. Some destinations, such as Girona in Spain, have also used the app to open up attractions around the city.

Many experts are predicting that these passes are here to stay for the long term and the convenience and peace of mind they can provide for travellers certainly makes it worthwhile knowing which digital health certificates are being accepted on which flight routes at the time of travel.

Be aware of other risks

It is also vital that travel managers re-familiarise themselves with the health and security situations in the countries where staff are travelling to and should carry out appropriate medical, security and logistics risk assessments. This should look at the specific itinerary of a traveller and will likely vary based on a travellers’ health profile and local issues in the region.

The pandemic has exacerbated issues, such as underlying security dynamics, in many countries. Rising political tensions, overstretched medical services, and increasing income inequality are all trends impacting the potential risks in many different regions across the globe. Understanding how these issues may impact travelling employees will be vital for travel managers. Organisations should also utilise the specialist knowledge of on-the-ground experts as they are often best placed to provide real-time, actionable intelligence on these changing security dynamics.

Be flexible

Ultimately, travel managers should be prepared to be flexible when managing the return of international travel. While some employees may be keen to return to the skies, others may have a low appetite for risk and would prefer to forgo travel for now. Travel managers should therefore look to create a travel policy that considers all employees, taking their specific needs into account. From implementing a new travel policy to building a Covid-19 vaccination programme, the return-to-travel journey is one defined by complexity. Understanding this is key, and working to account for the various health and security risks within a comprehensive and integrated approach is a necessary step that organisations need to be on top of in the post-pandemic world.

Dr Mark Parrish, International SOS