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Corporate travel safety 2021

A short guide to corporate travel safety and security

man looking at train times, header for coporate travel safety article

As multinationals further their reach and small companies become increasingly global, more and more employees are needing to travel for business. Wherever staff may be heading, there is now more pressure on employers to ensure they have analyzed potential dangers and risks prior to business trips, enter the topic of corporate travel safety.

More often than not, business trips go without a hitch, but there’s always a small chance that something could go wrong. So, if your employees travel for business of any kind, it’s up to you to ensure their safety as far as possible and communicate to them what to do in the event of an emergency.

It’s worrying, then, that a GBTA survey found that 46% of UK and USA business travellers work for a company that has no clear travel security policies, with 22% having no idea who to contact in the event of an emergency abroad. This is why it’s vital for your company to plan and prepare adequately for corporate travel safety, and communicate this effectively to your employees. 

The role of duty of care in the business travel

A company’s legal and moral responsibility to take care of their employees when they travel on behalf of their company is known as its ‘duty of care’. Any corporate entity is required to demonstrate that it has adequately fulfilled its duty of care should any incident occur, from the headline-grabbing crises to more common minor accidents and injuries. 

In the wake of Covid-19, not having a duty of care policy simply won’t cut it, even for smaller businesses. Duty of care policies are now a must as part of a company’s general travel policy. Your company might have a rule against five-star hotels in their policy, but does it have anything about committing to keeping staff out of regions experiencing political unrest?

Not only does having a duty of care travel policy help avoid problems, it actually improves the way employees feel about the company. There are a number of benefits experienced by employers who look after their travelers well. A trip that is as smooth and pain-free as possible means a more productive one. This equals a happier employee. Not only can this help with staff retention, but more importantly, it lessens the possibility of legal implications further down the line.

Corporate travel safety, and duty of care policies specifically, are areas that all travel managers, admins, or HR teams should be familiar with. For professionals in these areas looking to improve employee care and take the initiative, a rethink or creation of a duty of care policy would be a great starting point. In fact, it has never been easier to get services and advice in this area, as most good corporate travel companies now include duty of care services as part of their solution.

Travel risk management vs duty of care

Within the topic of corporate travel safety there are a lot of very similar terms thrown around, Let’s quickly clear up some confusion around the terms ‘duty of care’ and ‘travel risk management’. Often the two are used interchangeably, which is incorrect.

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.

In short, the difference lies in what companies need to do in order to ensure the safety of their employees versus how they’re going to do it.

What are some safety risks to consider while traveling for work?

If your employees often travel to different parts of the world, here are some potential risks you might consider:

Political instability

Political instability can affect travel plans and put travelers in jeopardy. 2019 saw mass protests taking place in countries ranging from France and Spain in Europe, to Hong Kong and India in Asia; from Chile, Colombia and Bolivia in Latin America to Lebanon, Iran and Iraq in the Middle East. Business travel to and within areas that are politically unstable needs careful planning, based on up-to-date advice and information. Take a look at the UK government website, which publishes travel advice for all countries—there’s sections on safety and security, as well as the terrorism threat level. It’s a good resource for pre-work trip research for employers and employees alike.

Sanitation and health

71% of senior executive travellers reported they had experienced medical concerns abroad. While you often can’t predict health issues, you can plan how to manage them in advance.There are a number of health-related considerations to be aware of while traveling, including:

  • The availability of healthcare—make sure your travelers know where they can get medical support *before* they need it.
  • Food and water safety—whilst working abroad is a great way to gain new experiences and perhaps taste new food and drink, it’s worth remembering that some parts of the world might not have the same hygiene standards as at home. Traveler’s can reduce their risk of stomach upsets by sticking to safe eating and drinking habits. Although tempting, travelers should steer clear of street food. Similarly, opt for bottled water instead of tap water.
  • Health threats and diseases—traveler’s will need to complete any necessary vaccination courses for the country prior to traveling.

Fortunately, not all duty of care concerns involves life or death circumstances. Employers may also want to consider their travelers´ overall health and wellness. Frequent flying may seem glamorous, but sometimes the cost to mental and physical wellbeing can be too much. To mitigate this, a company’s duty-of-care obligations should incorporate wellbeing practices—for example, looking for hotels that offer fitness or healthy menus.

Accommodation security

After a long day of traveling, you may feel tired and dirty, so the first thing on your mind is likely to be freshening up or getting some sleep at your hotel. However, this is not the time to let your guard down. Hotels can be hotspots for thieves. To ensure your safety wherever you’re staying, whether it’s a hotel or an AirBnb, you need to be prepared. Here are a few key safety tips:

  • Research where you are staying—know what the security measures are, such as whether the front desk is staffed 24 hours a day. Use Google Street View to survey the surrounding area.
  • Do not book a room on the ground floor—these rooms are more susceptible to break-ins.
  • When you’re out and about, place the ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door. This way, it looks like you’re still in the room. By doing this, you’re decreasing the likelihood of an opportunistic theft.
  • Know your emergency exit plan—this might be one of the most important tips. As soon as you arrive at your room, spend a few minutes getting to grips with the emergency exit map and determine where they are located. 

Third-party contractors

A company’s duty-of-care obligations should not only cover its employees. It also extends to third-party contractors and other people the organization has responsibilities toward. In addition, a third-party contractor can pose new risk elements, will they expose traveling staff to security risks? Either only using trusted parties from an approved list or thorough audits of third parties, especially overseas, is recommended.

Female traveler safety

While safety is paramount for anyone on the road, female business travelers are more likely to face risks than their male counterparts. According to a 2018 report released by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and AIG, 83% of women have had concerns about their safety while on a business trip in the previous year. In spite of this, only 18% of travel policies specifically address female safety. It can be a delicate issue for businesses, but in order to properly uphold their duty of care requirements, they need to ensure that their female employees are alert to the unique challenges they may encounter whilst traveling for work.

Processes to promote traveler safety you can start now

Travel risk assessment

When planning any business travel you should perform a travel risk assessment to ensure you are aware of any specific threats travellers may encounter during their trip. Start off by doing this for your biggest travel markets.

By nature, travel risks are constantly changing. In any one country, they vary by the time of year, the current political climate, and more. This means that it’s important to carry out some extra research every time you send your employees on a business trip, to make sure you haven’t missed any risks that weren’t there the last time you checked. Read our article on how to conduct a travel risk assessment for more info.

Employee itinerary tracking

Technology has been a massive force of change within the business travel industry, with one recent development being travel itinerary tracking. It can be a challenge to identify where travelers are at any given time. If an incident takes place, not knowing exactly where your people are can lead to increased risk, stress, and work. That’s where GPS tracking comes in. Location tracking apps are all around us, and while most of them focus on sharing your location with friends and family, some of them were designed to allow employers to track their workforce.

Employee training

Once you’ve assessed all the risks, it’s time to pass some of that knowledge on to your employees. While you cannot foresee incidents and accidents, you can train your staff to spot what is and isn’t an unacceptable risk to take while on a business trip. Discuss all the major risks and common threats that you or your staff members may encounter. Training should focus primarily on prevention as it’s often easier to avoid a dangerous situation than resolve it. However, educating yourself and others on how to respond will also engender competency. Remember, in the moment there’s often not enough time to think, so make sure your travelers really take on board your advice—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. Travelers can easily get in trouble 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.

It’s not usually life and death

Most incidents that occur on business trips are not life-threatening, they can result in inconveniences such as having a phone stolen, to sickness from poor hygiene in the region. Apart from the obvious stress for travelers, these small incidents add up to lost workdays, wasted business trips and unhappy employees. Corpororate travel safety is not just a process of avoiding legal action against an employer after a mishap on a work trip, it’s about making those expensive flights and hotels as effective as possible by ensuring staff are operating at their peak and focusing on the job at hand.