Business travel management is a highly complex task. There’s a lot more to it than minimizing costs and keeping stakeholders happy. It goes beyond making sure that the traveler is comfortable and having a grand old time on their business trip. Companies also have a responsibility to keep their employees safe when they’re traveling.
Let’s face it: traveling is not the safest thing that you can do. It probably carries more risk than sitting in a corporate office all day. When it comes to assessing the risks that a business trip might entail, the “it will never happen to us” approach is simply not going to cut it.
Keeping business travelers safe
Companies around the world may work in completely different ways, have different travel policies and use different tools to manage business travel, but they have one thing in common: They all want to keep their employees safe.
Travel risks are not by any means limited to highly unlikely events. In fact, they range from terrorist attacks and natural disasters to everyday incidents that can happen anywhere in the world, like muggings and road accidents.
Thankfully, the sudden outbreak of war or the unprecedented eruption of a volcano are threats that most travelers never have to face. However, any traveler, business or leisure, can become a victim of thieves or drunk drivers at any point during their travels.
In recent years, businesses have started to recognize the importance of reducing travel risks. So much so that in a 2017 survey conducted by BTN, 65% of respondents said that their companies have increased their attention to traveler safety and travel risk management over the previous three years.
Wait, did we just say travel risk management? Of course we did. It’s one of the most important concepts that often come up in relation to traveler safety, next to duty of care. The trouble is, these two concepts seem to have melted into each other and lost their individual meanings.
Why is that a problem? Because knowing the difference between duty of care and travel risk management is the first step to keeping employees safe. Only when companies understand the two concepts in relation to each other can they start implementing a foolproof travel risk management strategy to assess, respond to and mitigate risks.
The why and the what: duty of care and travel risk management
Let’s clear up the confusion around duty of care and travel risk management.
It’s not uncommon to hear people say things like “If only we’d been better at our duty of care, we could’ve saved the company and our employees so much trouble” or “Not every country in the world expects companies to comply with travel risk management.”
In these examples, the terms duty of care and travel risk management are used interchangeably, which is incorrect. It’s a simple semantic trap that’s easy to fall into. What’s getting mixed up here is what companies need to do in order to ensure the safety of their employees and how they’re going to do it.
Duty of care is a company’s moral and legal obligation to keep its employees safe. It obliges companies to take responsibility for the health, safety, and security of their employees, whether they’re in the office or away on a business trip.
On the other hand, travel risk management is the strategy that fulfills that obligation. It’s the action plan that provides the care that companies have a duty to give.
The first challenge that companies face when gearing up for travel risk management is that in most countries, there are no laws, regulations or even guidelines that define what duty of care should entail.
The fact that it’s a moral obligation needs no further explanation. But to what extent is it a legal obligation? Are companies liable for every incident, big or small, whether it happens domestically or abroad? The answers to these questions are unclear and mostly determined by case law.
Since duty of care is such a loosely defined concept, it’s difficult to know what you’re trying to comply with when setting up your travel risk management plan—unless you define it for yourself. Each company is unique with varying travel needs and distinct policies. What does duty of care mean to you?
Make a point of clearly defining your company’s responsibilities regarding traveler safety. Involve all stakeholders (not just the travel management team) in the process. Better yet, ask your employees about what they think your duty is to them. Keeping them engaged will make your life easier and show them that you care.
Implementing a travel risk management plan
There are five steps to developing an effective travel risk management plan.
1. Risk assessment
Before you do anything else, you need to do a general risk assessment of your biggest travel markets. Do research, evaluate risks, and think about ways to reduce and mitigate them—even if your employees only travel to countries that are considered safe. You can start by searching online and making a couple of phone calls to local embassies if you’re not sure what travel risks you should look out for.
Travel risks have a very nasty characteristic: they’re constantly changing. The range of travel risks in a certain country varies by the time of year, the current political climate, and more. This means that every time you send your employees on a business trip, you need to do some extra research to make sure you haven’t missed any risks that weren’t there the last time you checked.
2. Education and training
Once you’ve assessed all the risks, it’s time to pass some of that knowledge on to your employees. Discuss all the major risks that they can potentially experience and educate them on how to respond. Remember, in the moment there’s often not enough time to think, so make sure you drill your advice well—even if it’s something as simple as looking out for pickpockets.
Receiving the right education and training can save the life of a traveler in a critical situation. It can also prevent incidents from happening in the first place. Travelers can easily get in trouble just because they’re not familiar with the culture, rules or laws of the country they’re visiting. Make sure you give them a crash course on these risks and they’ll have a better chance at avoiding them.
3. Adding safety criteria to your travel policy
Is there a specific airline that you don’t trust? Has your research shown that it’s not particularly safe to use public transport in the city that your employees are traveling to? Are there risky neighborhoods that you don’t want your travelers to stay in?
Make sure you add all of these restrictions to your travel policy. It’s not about taking away options from your employees, it’s about making sure that you’re reducing travel risks as much as you possibly can.
Smart travel booking tools can help you with enforcing your travel policy—more on that later.
4. Setting up communication
Don’t be fooled by the fact that communication is number four on our list: it’s actually one of the most important, if not the most important things to consider when implementing a travel risk management strategy.
Your travelers must be aware of who their point of contact is and how they can reach them. Since you’re not going to be with them physically, you need to make sure that the communication between you is seamless and you can provide assistance whenever they need it.
5. Insuring against unavoidable risks
The reason why travel risk management isn’t called travel risk elimination is because no matter what you do, you will not be able to stop certain things from happening. What you can do is you can insure against risks that you don’t have the power or the means to prevent. This will depend on your company’s insurance policy, and the decision will involve various stakeholders, so don’t feel like you have to go at it alone.
How can a smart business travel booking tool help you comply with your risk management plan?
Efficient corporate travel management automation tools can be of tremendous help when it comes to travel risk management. You can incorporate your travel policy inside the tool and allow employees to book their own trips. This not only frees up a lot of time for you and gives travelers more freedom to book trips that they want to go on, it also helps with managing and responding to travel risks. Here’s how smart booking tools can save you.
1. Increased compliance with your travel policy
The number one advantage of smart corporate travel booking tools is that they’ve been shown to increase travel policy compliance by boosting traveler satisfaction. As long as you’re giving them comfortable and convenient options, your employees are likely to abide by the rules that you set. And this gives you more control over mitigating travel risks.
Let’s say your employee is headed to a conference that’s a six-hour drive from the city you’re based in. The event starts early on a Saturday morning so they’d have to leave on Friday afternoon when they’re already tired from work. Are you going to let them drive when they’re not going to be as responsive to situations on the road? Or would you rather give them other options that are safer, but just as convenient and comfortable, like a flight or a train?
When using a smart travel management tool, you can craft a travel policy that takes traveler safety into account (for example, no long-haul driving after a full workday). Your employees will self-book the trip – no micromanagement, nobody likes that stuff – but they will do so within the framework of the travel policy created by you.
Another huge benefit of automated booking tools is that they’re transparent. They allow you to track your employees and know exactly where they are at any given time. Now, this doesn’t mean that you’re keeping your employees under constant surveillance (because that would be creepy). It provides you with just the right amount of visibility so that in the event of a crisis, you can track down your travelers and begin the process of extraction, if needed.
The tool gives you insight into what flights and accommodation they booked, what part of the city they’re staying in, what modes of transport they’re using, etc. This way, when you can’t get in touch with your employees for some reason, you’ll still have a good idea of where they are and whether they’re safe.
3. 24/7 travel support
We’ve already touched on the importance of communication when it comes to traveler safety. Smart booking tools have an invaluable communication feature: they provide 24/7 travel support so that your employees can always get in touch with someone, whether you’re available or not.
Having a reliable partner that your employees can turn to for help is crucial for effective travel risk management. When faced with a crisis, travelers must have a point of contact that they can talk to in their native language (and it has to be a human. Sorry, bots.) Fast escalation for big issues is also a huge plus.
It’s up to you to decide how you want to split the responsibility. For example, you can let your employees know to contact external support outside of business hours.
Are you ready to implement your travel risk management plan?
Taking the time and effort to develop and implement a travel risk management plan pays off in the long run. Every company wants to see their employees happy and safe, whether they’re chatting in the office cafeteria or meeting with clients on the other side of the globe.
Instead of insuring against everything or trying to take responsibility once something terrible has already happened, make sure you assess all the risks involved, educate your employees and focus on safety when setting up your travel policy.