March 3, 2024

Three lines of defence

Keeping travellers safe and informed is even more challenging in the Covid world. Three industry specialists share their expertise

1 Risk expert Suzanne Sangiovese explains why managing risk is no longer just about knowing the destination, it’s about profiling the traveller too.

The pandemic has brought with it a slew of new concerns and requirements for corporates and first and foremost is the risk profile of the traveller. Of course individuals with pre-existing health concerns or those that are immunocompromised have always faced additional risks or concerns while travelling. Now, the coronavirus places us all at additional risk.

Correct procedures

It’s vital to ensure your procedures are in order. Companies will need to guarantee they have a bulletproof travel programme in place for all of their legals, insurance, finance, communications and crisis management in the event that one of their travelling staff members falls ill. This is a marked difference from the pre-Covid days. Previously, corporates may have only had their travellers navigate through a trip approval process for traditionally higher-risk countries abroad or work with a medical professional to complete a health form for destinations where specific outbreaks were common or medical facilities lacking. However, some companies are now requiring travellers to go through these procedures even for domestic trips, particularly within the US.

“As part of the duty of care obligation corporates not only need to send their traveller to a destination successfully, but also return them home safely”

Different strokes

A five-day business trip could turn into an extended 14-day nightmare if a traveller tests positive for Covid-19. Travel managers will need to ensure the personal needs of the traveller are met and that might include accommodation during the self-isolation process, food deliveries and so on. Let’s not forget that not all travellers are the same. Female travellers, travellers with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community face unique risks which need to be considered. Companies should also turn their attention to the traveller’s team back in the office. What is the impact on the business if they cannot perform their work duties during that time?

Be prepared

As part of the duty of care obligation, corporates not only need to send their traveller to a destination successfully, but also return them home safely. Some modes of transportation – specifically certain airlines – are turning away travellers even if they appear ill and/or have a fever, regardless if they have tested negative for the virus. The duty of care obligation is compounded by the unpredictable regulatory environment we’re now living in, and that has a greater impact on the possibility of travel. Businesses need to strictly monitor the many new measures that will be in place – many of which have not yet even been decided or which are continually evolving – imposed by governments, corporate health and safety, travel insurance and by corporate travel policy managers. Travel policies now need to adapt to ensure travel is executed well within these new moving parameters to ensure the safety of the individual and a successful trip.

Suzanne Sangiovese is Commercial and Communications Director for travel risk intelligence experts Riskline, which provides risk assessments for hundreds of destinations and monitors the world’s political crises, security developments and travel news.

2 As the world opens up again, the wider impact of the pandemic is intensifying some of the inherent risks of business travel, says security expert Matt Arundel.

Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on our health, that much we know, but the knock-on effects of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown are starting to emerge in other very real and sometimes terrifying ways. Unemployment and poverty have propelled those already in hardship further into desperation. Drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues are on the rise. Organised crime is gaining further footholds in society. Police and the military are already stretched trying to control the pandemic, leading to gaps being exploited by petty criminals through to terrorist organisations and leaving business travellers more vulnerable.

Basic instinct

Street robberies, muggings, hotel room thefts, burglaries from rental properties, car jackings, kidnaps, and assaults have all exponentially increased since the pandemic struck. Countries we once visited without a moment’s hesitation are now the subject of risk assessments we never thought we would be writing. We are having to re-evaluate the very basics. Advising travellers not to give out their personal details and pay attention to those around them is now irrelevant. Our personal details are now being openly recorded at restaurants and bars for track and trace, and often not secured as per GDPR. Likewise, the wearing of masks is the law in many places, so how can we know who is around us when we can’t see their faces?

“The knock-on effects of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown are starting to emerge in other very real and sometimes terrifying ways”

Quick reaction

Country risk ratings no longer apply in the same vein. Snap decisions by a country’s government can mean immediate local lockdowns, overnight economic hardship, the stifling of criminal supply chains. We are now being contacted daily by companies who are rightfully requesting location-specific risk assessments. The question is no longer just “how safe is that country?”, it’s “how safe is the district, the city, the hotel, the street, the workplace, the morning commute?”. And that risk assessment doesn’t change by the day, it changes by the hour.

Safety first

So how do we make ourselves Covid safe? Corporates need to start by taking a long hard look at their current global travel policies and adjust them, adding a coronavirus-specific element. Test travellers before each journey to avoid the reputational damage of an employee carrying the virus into another’s workplace, plus the financial costs of litigation. Remember the asymptomatic spread of the virus is very real. Conduct coronavirus-specific research on the destination, hotel, or workplace. What is the ‘R’ rate, what are the restrictions? Seek local knowledge, speak with the hotel, and communicate with health and safety managers responsible for the location. Consider a personnel tracker and use check-in windows to ensure all is well. Communication is key. Check the medical facilities and recommendations from your insurance provider. Know where a traveller can get a test whilst away if they come into contact with someone infected, or show symptoms. Don’t just carry PPE and spares, use them. You have a duty to others even if they feel they do not have a duty to protect you. Have a crisis plan if there’s a lockdown. Consider a coronavirus specific ‘burner’ or spare phone, which means you don’t have to share your daily-use phone number with strangers for track and trace forms. Remember these forms are only so the establishment can make contact. Find out what number they would call you from and ask if you really need to give your full name. Back home, test and quarantine until the results are proven.

Matt Arundel is the Founder and Director of MASC Executive, specialists in risk, crisis and travel management solutions to international corporations, governments and expeditionary industries worldwide. An ex-Royal Marine Commando, he has completed missions in some of the world’s most austere, remote and hostile regions.

3 Communicating with travellers is now more crucial than ever but it has to be handled in the right way, says travel management expert Lesley O’Bryan.

Ensuring traveller engagement is a priority for any travel programme but especially so during the pandemic. Travel managers need to understand audiences and channels and create communications that are impactful, relevant and easy to digest in order to create an environment of trust, transparency and traveller confidence. That’s why communication was a focus for the new Travel and Meetings Standards task force (TAMS), an independent coalition of nearly 200 corporate travel professionals from around the world who joined forces in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak to identify standards and protocols to keep travellers safe and healthy. Wishing to provide guidance to travel managers, the group developed a Return to the Road Communication Programme, which recommends the following approach.

Set your goals

Clearly define and limit goals to an achievable number, ideally no more than three, and make each goal SMART – specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic and time bound. Make sure goals can be impacted through communication efforts. Focus on core areas of the travel programme and what travellers need to know about air, hotel, ground transportation, agencies, online booking tools, meetings and events as a result of Covid-19.

“Clearly define and limit goals to an achievable number, ideally no more than three, and make each goal SMART – specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic and time bound”

Review your channels

Spend time thoroughly reviewing all available communication channels, considering every touchpoint in the traveller’s experience. This could include intranet, social community, email, mobile tools and more. The use of visuals, imagery, graphics, infographics and video will help your message stand out. Whichever channels you choose, ensure you have consistent messaging across all your communications.

Identify your audience

Know who to communicate with and what their specific needs are. Consider divisions, business units or groups and how their travel patterns and needs differ. Listen to what travellers have to say and act on it. Consider the effectiveness of each channel for different audiences and messages. Each message should be created specifically for the intended audience. The most impactful campaigns are multi-channel, using different ways to reach specific audiences with reinforcing messages.

Engage stakeholders

Create strategic overviews that clearly demonstrate results and impact for internal stakeholders. Consider external stakeholders and how best to engage with them. Alongside your own communications, advise suppliers how they can communicate information so it can be integrated to your overall engagement strategy. Perhaps use an expert partner, or ensure a lead is identified within the travel team to drive and own the engagement strategy.

Refine the strategy

Monitor the effectiveness of your communications and make sure your strategy is regularly reviewed. Take note of feedback from your travellers and stakeholders in order to continually evolve the communications strategy.

Lesley O’Bryan is Advito Senior VP and Principal and is on the Communications Committee for the Travel and Meetings Standards taskforce (TAMS), a group of industry experts who came together in the pandemic to provide support and guidance to travel managers.