Political instability… terrorist attacks… pandemics. These are just a few of the issues that affect business travel in an increasingly unstable global environment. These days the evening news is filled with stories of evacuation, kidnappings, natural disasters and airline security alerts. All of these situations are presented with varying levels of severity and can each have an impact on business travel. After 9/11, organizations realized the need for a comprehensive travel security program. With recent events, the need has become considerably more urgent.
Here is the bottom line when it comes to travel security: organizations have a responsibility to keep their employees safe while traveling. Increasingly, companies from all sectors face a legal responsibility to demonstrate duty of care towards employees and consumers. Any company found to be deficient in terms of its response to a crisis could, in theory, be found negligent for failing to provide adequate warning, training or protection for employees or customers.
If a major incident occurs, can you immediately find out which employees may be in the affected location? Do your travelers have access to 24-hour professional security advice both before they travel and in the event of a crisis? Were they given the proper information prior to their trip? If you have travelers going to high-risk destinations you need to ensure that the necessary security and travel measures are in place. To achieve this requires a layered and procedural travel security policy that includes authorization, pre-deployment briefs and on the ground support.
To avoid costly legal and reputational fall-out when something goes wrong, it makes sense for companies to put in place a proper system – for assessing the risk of a destination before the employee is sent there, for monitoring events during the stay, and for keeping everyone informed of travel schedule changes. They should also be able to guarantee their workers that in the event of an incident, everything will be done to help them and get them home.
The peace of mind a guarantee like this gives both the employer and the employee (not to mention the employee’s family) is not to be underestimated. One recent case that highlights these factors involved a software consultant who was traveling to Lagos for the first time. It was arranged that he would be met at the airport by a driver, sent by the client, who would take him to his hotel. But the consultant disappeared. Finally, after two days, he was found, terrified and injured, outside the hotel – dumped from a passing car. Apart from the trauma to the consultant himself and its knock-on effect on other employees and morale in general, his managers faced the added expenses of replacing lost tickets, passport, laptop and valuables.
This incident could easily have been avoided if the software company had consulted travel risk experts. They would have informed the traveler of the need for a meet and greet procedure in Nigeria and would have made sure that he had a photograph of the driver before he left. They would also have made sure that an itinerary and communication was in place and that everyone involved was briefed thoroughly beforehand.
It is no use waiting until trouble occurs to institute a company-wide travel policy – a protocol should already be in place before sending anyone abroad. These guidelines should be based on a thoroughly researched hierarchy of dangerous places around the globe, so any proposed destination can instantly be recognized as low, medium or high-risk. For example, high-risk (category A) countries, such as Iraq and Somalia, would come up as strictly out of bounds to any business traveler. Medium risk (category B) countries, which might include Russia and Nigeria, would require prior permission, a comprehensive travel briefing and instructions for special precautions to be taken. And travelers to low risk (category C) countries would of course need no special authorization.
In addition to timely pre-trip information and briefings, the most assured way of an employer keeping employees safe is by keeping them out of harm’s way. A good travel tracking program, whether developed internally or provided by a third party, will alert and inform security and/or HR departments that an employee will be traveling to a ‘no-go’ or to a high-risk destination. This enables the company to prevent the travel from taking place or choose how best to keep the employee safe. This will be especially useful in the event of a pandemic such as avian influenza. In terrorist attack situations like 9/11, a tracking program will allow companies to locate and communicate with their travelers with ease.
If, even after all these preventive measures have been put in place, an employee finds themselves abroad in a serious security-related incident, can the employer muster up any and all resources necessary to respond? An experienced network of global resources will ease the trauma the employee faces, minimize related expenses and enable the company to return their focus to the business at hand. A 24-hour security response center enabling employees to gain access to security advice is essential. When travelers and expatriates were evacuated out of Lebanon this summer, many utilized these 24-hour security response centers provided by their corporations to receive instructions. For those on the ground, information was scarce. These 24-hour response centers provided them with information on their company’s evacuation plans and, in turn, alerted the corporations of the whereabouts of their employees.
As companies continue to globalize and move into emerging markets, threats to business travelers increase. If your organization does not have a travel security program you should make the necessary recommendations to senior management or, if you are a member of senior management, consider the three basic components of a comprehensive program: information, tracking and 24-hour support. These elements combined with an incident or crisis management plan form an extremely robust program – one that will protect your travelers as well as the company’s reputation.
Laura Winthrop is Vice President, Subscription Services at Control Risks.