Effectively managing employees’ risk on the road goes beyond the headlines – it’s an every day discipline
While international travel has its perks, sometimes it can be unnerving. On March 19, a bomb ripped through a busy crowded thoroughfare area on Istiklal Street in Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul, killing five and injuring hundreds. Istiklal is a long street rimmed by hundreds of vendors and restaurants, and even more pedestrians. Al Jazeera pointedly compared the explosion as “the equivalent of a bomb going off on Oxford Street in London or Fifth Avenue in New York.”
A day after the bombing, my family and I were scheduled to board a flight taking us to Saudi Arabia for six days and then on to Istanbul for another five days. A thousand thoughts entered my mind simultaneously, the main one being simply: “Do we go or not?”
After consulting with numerous friends on the ground in Istanbul, as well as with iJET, a leading integrated risk management firm based in Annapolis, MD, we decided to continue with our trip. Both our friends and the experts reassured me that the likelihood of a repeat attack in Istanbul in the upcoming weeks was next to zero. Additionally, I had enough training in risk management to be able to implement common-sense safety and security strategies while on the ground.
One of these strategies was to sign up with the US State Department’s STEP program (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program – visit step.state.gov) to make sure the embassy had a way of contacting me in case of an emergency. STEP is a free service that allows travelers to receive real-time, detailed updates of country-specific warnings and alerts. The day we landed in Saudi Arabia on March 22, a message came: Another tragedy had rocked Europe.
Two bombings at Brussels Airport and a separate blast on a metro train in Brussels had killed more than 30 people and injured 270 others. Again, my mind went racing. Should we continue to Istanbul or return home?
This is often the dilemma that both business and leisure travelers face in the wake of horrifying world events that occur in regions where they may travel. Should one proceed? What’s at stake? Is it a family trip that one has spent thousands of dollars on already, or a crucial business meeting that – if canceled – would pose a serious cost to their employer?
What would be the impact on my career if I choose not to go? According to a recent poll conducted by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives and Business Traveller magazine, 31 percent of business travelers worry that a reluctance to travel could hurt their career. On the other hand, if I decide to travel to a place where I may not feel safe, what is the cost to my family? The same poll found that 67 percent of business travelers say there is a psychological effect on either them or their families when they’re called upon to make such a trip.
“This study is the first to see the business traveler as less of a road warrior and more of an executive whose office just happens to be the world,” says ACTE executive director Greeley Koch. “These are people who balance their families and the challenges of life against meeting their corporate objectives.”
So as employees weigh these questions, how should employers plan for and manage risk in an uncertain world? What is a company’s Duty of Care to its travelers if they are caught in such situations?Empowering Employers
Employers have a Duty of Care to provide “reasonable and adequate precautions” in order to protect the well-being of their traveling employees. When employers don’t meet their Duty of Care, not only is their reputation at stake, but they risk incurring enormous costs – not to mention moral and legal ramifications – associated with the loss of human assets.
So what’s an employer to do? “Providing situational training and education is the single most responsible action they can take to make employees feel they have control over their own safety and security,” says Bruce McIndoe, CEO of iJET International. iJet is a company that delivers intelligence-driven, integrated risk management solutions that enable multinational organizations to operate globally with confidence.
“In the post Brussels-attack era, we have increasingly seen clients ask for assistance with management of their Duty of Care,” adds Evan Konwiser, VP digital traveler at American Express Global Business Travel in New York. American Express GBT provides travel solutions, integrated consulting services, proprietary research, and end-to-end meetings and events capabilities.
“We bring value by offering products and tools to help the travel manager assess and manage risk throughout the world. It’s important to know that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ remedy, and that the needs of large multinationals who have hundreds of travelers all over the world are very different than middle market-level clients who travel domestically with just a handful of trips to Europe. In addition, smaller companies who have a lesser travel footprint are now exhibiting an increased level of attention to risk management,” Konwiser notes.
“The most important piece of risk management solutions that we can offer as a TMC is to provide traveler tracking and teach travel managers how to manage their own disruptions via better communication tools,” he says. “We provide various levels of services to match the needs of different companies, and are very excited to partner with iJET to provide a variety of crisis management and risk assessment services. In this way we act as a conduit for those companies who don’t have a relationship with a risk management provider such as iJET.”
A robust risk management program requires communication channels, both directly with the traveler and with the employer. “On one level, our management platform assimilates data on travelers, automates sending messages to them and provides synthesized intelligence via our Expert Care tool,” Konwiser continues. “On another level, we offer our clients education via access to iJET analysts so they can engage with them and make qualified decisions. Other clients receive a hotline number to call in for assistance whether its medical or security. In this way we enable end to end Duty of Care.” Smart Decisions
“Our job is not to tell clients what is risky travel and what is not, but to enable them to be smart risk management decision makers, and help them continue with their business,” Konwiser says. In fact, despite the attack in Brussels, travelers continue to proceed with business. According to a recent poll conducted by the Global Business Travel Association and its European partner associations, over 72 percent of global travel buyers report that their company has a risk management plan in place. Eighty-one percent found their company’s risk management plan to be effective directly following the terror attacks in Brussels.
Nonetheless, according to the GBTA analysis, “28 percent are reporting their company either doesn’t have a risk management plan in place or they are unsure if there is one and 13 percent who found their plans ineffective after the Brussels attacks state there is clearly still work to do.” In addition, the poll revealed that 90 percent of travel buyers said their company’s travel within Europe would see no change, or would only be slightly or moderately limited.
“In the post Paris, Brussels and Istanbul-attacks era, what we are seeing is that employers are just as worried about the safety of their local nationals as they are their business travelers,” adds iJET’s McIndoe. “Traveler tracking and other risk management practices are now being applied to both sets of people as opposed to just the travelers. We have also seen some companies change their policies and advise employees not to linger at the airport in public areas, but rather to get checked in and enter secure areas as quickly as possible. In their words, having tea at a café in the departure or arrivals lounge isn’t so encouraged anymore, but what is, is the reduction of the amount of time spent in an airport.”It’s About the Policy
The need for employers to understand the scope of their Duty of Care policies is increasingly vital. “Today, there is a shift occurring in the way companies are assessing risk,” states Charles Brossman, a Seattle-based travel risk management consultant, speaker, thought leader and author of the new book, Building a Travel Risk Management Program: Traveler Safety and Duty of Care for Any Organization.
In the book, Brossman outlines various case studies and examples of the benefits and cost avoidance gained from TRM continuous process improvement, and its impact on the enterprise overall under the umbrella of enterprise risk management. The consistent theme throughout the text is that TRM is much more than technology and risk messaging; it’s a discipline that needs effective management.
“It’s no longer just about focusing on high risk destinations, but having measures in place that will protect your travelers anywhere,” Brossman explains. “Expanding the criteria for travel risk management programs is a trend that is likely to increase. For this, companies must create a safety oriented culture, and invest in TRM, especially in the key process area of training.”
“A comprehensive TRM program that is simple to understand by travelers, is best,” he continues. “For example, don’t give multiple numbers to travelers to call in case of an emergency. Imagine your traveler was stuck in Brussels at the time of the attack. Calling multiple numbers for assistance would be overwhelming. Rather, having one consolidated global hotline, or even better – pushing one button on your phone via an app – makes it easy and manageable for the traveler.”
In the US, companies spend copious amounts of money investing to meet workplace safety standards under such programs as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. “However, business travel is an extension of the workplace,” Brossman advises. “For this reason, it behooves companies to evaluate the cost to their enterprise if travelers are impacted by a terrorist or other critical incidents or emergencies.”
From a policy perspective, both costs and the protection of human capital are top priorities, and experts continually counsel that investments in safety will result in savings down the line.Brussels Isn’t Stopping Anyone
“What’s changed after the Brussels attacks is that the threat of terrorism has crept into the consciousness of Westerners,” McIndoe notes. “The frequency of terrorist actions in Europe is becoming visible and apparent to Westerners, who now see terrorism as ‘here.’ For years, terrorist acts have occurred all over the world, such as in Yemen or in parts of Asia, but that didn’t affect the consciousness of Westerners as much as these attacks have.”
Nonetheless, it’s important to take a step back and put terrorist acts into perspective. “More employees die in auto accidents abroad than in acts of terrorism,” he explains. “The likelihood of being killed in a terror attack is as low as getting killed in a plane crash or being struck by lightning.”
The ACTE/Business Traveller survey found that 10 percent of business travelers remain “utterly fearless” regarding terrorism, and 25 percent have very little fear.
Nonetheless, there are concerns; 65 percent of survey respondents are worried about calamities such as being stranded in a security lockdown, in-flight terror incidents and the threat of medical health risks. Still, a majority of business travelers said they fear mugging and traffic accidents while on the road more than the possibility of a terrorist attack.
Such misgivings are not entirely misplaced, however; over 10,000 people die each year in the US from alcohol related car crashes. That’s almost 30 people per day, which is similar to the tragic death count of the Brussels attacks.
“We worry more about theft and injury during an employee’s trip abroad,” McIndoe continues. “Alcohol is a big issue – and we advise travelers to change their behaviors around this. The highest risk times are often between 11 PM and 2 AM when drunk travelers are likely to fall and injure themselves, get into an altercation or get struck by a vehicle.”
Regardless of whether the risk in question makes headlines or just headaches, the key to keeping travelers safe is found in knowledge.
“Fortunately, peoples’ fears can be alleviated through education,” McIndoe explains. “Education around the low probability of terrorist acts, and the teaching of strategies to help travelers protect themselves, both assist in countering the psychological impact of issues. In the end, you must choose whether are you going to live your life in fear due to something that’s as infrequent as lightning strikes – or whether you will exercise precautions and push on with life.”