Do you know where your travelers are? Sure, you say. “I’ve got some people in Europe and a bunch headed for a meeting in the Bahamas.” Sorry, that’s not enough information. You need more than a general idea of where your travelers are, according to safety and security experts. Not knowing where travelers are or the risks they could encounter can open your company to legal and financial liability.
“Risk assessment and risk management need to be forefront for every travel manager and part of every supplier’s product portfolio,” said Craig Banikowski, director, global travel management, Hilton Hotels Corp and immediate past president of the Global Business Travel Association.
“Find out who handles these issues at your company and insert yourself” in the discussion, Banikowski advised corporate travel managers at the recent GBTA convention in Denver. “You have to ensure that you are a viable part of the risk assessment and management process.”
It’s not just high-profile events like earthquakes in New Zealand; tsunamis and radiation leaks in Japan; homegrown terror in Oslo, and political turmoil across North Africa and the Middle East that pose a threat to travelers. Everyday traffic accidents and ordinary illness should be of far greater concern, experts suggested. These can strike on the other side of the world or the other side of town.
“Even if you only have travelers going to so-called safe places – New Zealand, Japan, Oslo – things can happen to them,” said Tim Daniel, executive vice president for International SOS. “You’re not off the hook just because your travelers don’t go to war zones or other places that are obviously risky.
“Even without outside events, your travelers are still going to get hurt in accidents. They are still going to get sick. You need a safety net, and that starts with knowing where they are.”
‘Duty of Care'
A safety net for travelers is more than a comfort – it’s a duty, said John Rose, president of business travel services for Travel Guard. Companies have what’s called a “duty of care” for employees. This means they are responsible for providing safe working conditions and taking steps to minimize and manage risks. Duty of care extends to employees (and often contractors) who are traveling for the company.
“Natural disasters happen, accidents happen, medical emergencies happen. There are different risk levels depending on where you are and what you are doing, but you are always at risk. If you don’t know where your people are, you can’t protect them or even help them,” Rose said.
Gaps in Managed Travel
Knowing where travelers are is an important advantage of managed travel, Rose said. But while air is generally booked through a managed system, coverage is spotty once travelers hit the ground. When travelers book car, train, hotel, and other ground services outside the managed system, it can be difficult or even impossible for travel managers to locate travelers. You may know that a traveler flew into New York’s JFK or La Guardia airport, but where did he go from there? Maybe a traveler landed in Frankfurt, but she could be half way across Europe by rail a couple of hours later.
Unaware of Risks
Another factor reducing traveler safety is lack of awareness by travelers themselves about the risks they might encounter, experts said. A recent survey by travel assistance provider International SOS found that while most international travelers carry smart phones, nearly three-quarters (73%) do not use travel-related applications before or during travel. Survey respondents said they would like information about medical services and risks in their destination – but apparently they don’t want it badly enough to bother looking.