Travel Risk Management: How to Protect Travelers Around the World
Business travel allows you to pursue opportunities around the world, but it also brings risks. That’s where travel risk management comes in. Learn how you can keep your business travelers safe and connected at all times.
As a rule of thumb, the more planning something requires, the more chances there are for it to go wrong. Deciding on where to go for lunch? Pretty likely to go without a hitch. Planning a giant company holiday party? Not so much.
This rule goes for your company’s risk management as well. Your operations that have the most moving parts and require the most planning also have the highest potential to go wrong.
A perfect example of moving parts and increased risk is business travel. Travel introduces so many variables: transportation, a new city, a new working environment, unfamiliar weather conditions, and different coworkers.
Business travel can provide unique benefits to career growth, business connections, and more—that’s why it’s rebounding after the pandemic. But it also brings risks. That’s where travel risk management comes in.
What Is Travel Risk Management?
Travel risk management (TRM) is the practice of anticipating, preventing, and reacting to threats business travelers may face on their journeys. This can include dangerous weather, social unrest, terrorism, natural disasters, public health risks, and much more.
Travel risk management means identifying and preparing for all the risks that come along the way. You have two main objectives: to decrease the chance of a threat materializing, if possible, and to have a plan in place in case it does. These objectives are part and parcel of all-hazards planning and your organization’s duty of care obligations.
Both proactive and reactive measures can set you up for effective, up-to-date business travel preparedness over the long term.
What is your duty of care to business travelers?
It’s widely established that employers have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment for their employees whether they’re in the office, a worksite, or any other usual workplace for your company. 90 percent of workers surveyed in our 2023 Employee Safety Report agree. However, only 41 percent of that same group are aware that this responsibility extends to traveling workers.
OSHA maintains that employees traveling as a part of their employment are entitled to the same protections under the General Duty Clause as any other employee. Even though a large portion of your workforce might be unaware of the protection afforded to them, you have a moral and legal obligation to protect your traveling workforce.
How can the ISO 31030 standard support your travel risk management efforts?
An employer’s duty of care to traveling employees is well-recognized, but there hasn’t been a unified framework to guide companies in doing so. That is, until recently, when the International Organization for Standards released standard number 31030, a document that provides recommendations for every step of travel.
ISO 31030 contains detailed yet flexible travel safety requirements for any business. It guides organizations to examine their operations from the ground up, establishing their own threat assessment process and implementing travel risk solutions.
How to Reduce Travel Risk
Traveling comes with inherent risks, but there are ways to avoid and mitigate their worst effects. These mitigation strategies are generally divided into two types: proactive measures, which aim to protect travelers by detecting and circumventing challenges, and reactive measures, which are used when an unexpected complication rears its head. Here’s what they are and how to use them.
The first half of your travel risk management plan accounts for the proactive steps you can take. Essentially, these are the steps you can take today—before any threat emerges—that will mitigate the risks of business travel.
Travel risk assessment
It starts with a travel-focused business threat assessment. This will help you identify which potential threats you need to prepare for. As part of your business threat assessment, quantify every threat in terms of its impact and likelihood. These quantifications will inform your travel risk management program.
For high-impact threats, focus on preventative steps you can take. High-impact travel risk examples include security risks like flight crashes, contracting dangerous diseases, massive cybersecurity breaches, and being detained while traveling. Although you need to have an emergency response plan in place if one of these threats does impact your business, your focus should be on planning with the foresight to avoid them entirely.
For high-likelihood threats, it’s the opposite. You should focus on preparing for these threats. Severe weather, delayed flights, and jet lag—with business travel, these things just come with the territory. While there is little you can do to prevent these kinds of risks, the focus is on preparing to mitigate harm or inconvenience.
Here are the key steps you can take for the biggest threats involved in business travel.
Preventative steps: Informed business travel planning
It goes without saying that the highest-impact business travel threats are those that put your employees’ physical safety at risk. Unfortunately, traveling is riskier than we might care to admit: On average, over 800 Americans die each year while traveling abroad, and that doesn’t include those traveling domestically.
For these types of potential risks, it’s best to cut them off at the pre-travel stage. There are several ways to accomplish this.
For dangerous diseases, the best preventative step to take is to vaccinate well ahead of the travel date. Go to the CDC’s travel website and enter the country your employee is traveling to—it will tell you which diseases are the biggest threats and which vaccines are required.
Sometimes, the best option is to avoid certain areas entirely. Take advantage of hyper-specific safety ratings from services like a threat intelligence system—which provides safety ratings neighborhood-by-neighborhood worldwide. The second-leading cause of death for Americans abroad is homicide. Avoiding high-crime-rate areas entirely is the safest option for your travel risk management policy.
For certain countries, your company should consider a categorical decision not to travel there. Harvard’s travel risk ratings are a good resource for making these decisions.
They categorize countries into three groups:
- High risk: “High-risk countries and regions are characterized by war zones, widespread militancy, asymmetric warfare, violent separatist movements or civil war, major epidemic zones, areas of pervasive violent criminal activity regularly impacting or targeting foreigners, or places without functioning government services—including emergency services—and with little or no rule of law.”
- Elevated risk: “Countries and regions deemed elevated risk are distinguished by low-level conflict—including frequent terrorist attacks, high internal tensions (tribal or political), violence that often impacts civilians and other noncombatants, violence that may be state-sponsored, a rule of law that is ineffective with weak emergency services, and/or an appreciable risk of violent crime perpetrated on foreigners. Countries may be placed on this list during periods of uncertainty or volatility.”
- Watch list: “Watch list countries or regions are facing trends or upcoming events that are likely to result in heightened risk in the near future.”
Countries not listed have no substantial current risk factors.
Preparative steps: Travel risk mitigation
We can’t control the weather, unfortunately, and flight delays are about as sure a thing as death and taxes. For high-likelihood threats that are impossible to prevent and that don’t pose a significant danger to your traveling employees, the key is to minimize the impact by adequately preparing pre-trip.
No matter where your travelers are headed, it’s always important to prep them for what they’ll experience there with a travel brief. The differences between countries and cultures that we might take for granted, such as tipping practices, information security risks, and unique dangers faced by women and LGBTQ people, are vital when your people go abroad. Employees unaware of these differences might arrive at their destination unprepared and more susceptible to danger—or even just experience culture shock and confusion. Delia Midamba, Head of Physical Security at Cloudflare, said on a recent episode of The Employee Safety Podcast:
Travel briefs are compact documents that act as a sort of “cheat sheet” for your travelers. Usually drafted by travel security analysts, they prime your employees on everything they might encounter, including general “good-to-know” information for travelers, such as hospital locations, in case they have a medical emergency. They usually include reports on known threats in the vicinity of their planned locations. Some travel briefs, such as those from AlertMedia, even update over time so that your people always have the latest information.
Reactive steps for ongoing travel risk management
The other half of the equation for travel risk management involves the reactive crisis management steps you need to be prepared to take. The word “reactive” can take on a negative connotation where business continuity is concerned—don’t let it.
The reality is that you need to be both proactive and reactive. All the preparation in the world isn’t worth anything if you aren’t ready to quickly and effectively react to a threat when one emerges.
Here are a few of the key ingredients to an effectively reactive travel risk management plan:
Once you are aware of a threat, communicate with the affected employee(s) immediately. For many threats, it’s critical to get the information to your people as quickly as possible.
Multi-channel communication capabilities are one of your best travel risk management solutions in this case. An email will likely not get there quickly enough. SMS is much more effective if you want to deliver your message ASAP.
It’s also important that you have two-way communication capabilities. This goes for any messages you send—your employees should always be able to respond back.
One very effective form of two-way communication is surveying. Surveys allow you to quickly conduct wellness checks in the event of a threat.
For example, imagine you hear news of an active shooter event near a hotel at which a few of your employees are staying. In less than a minute, you can send out a wellness check to that group, surveying if each of them is safe or in need of assistance.
The hardest part about protecting employees in another corner of the globe is the lack of visibility. It’s nearly impossible to stay aware of the hazards facing your traveling employees when you’re somewhere else. That’s where threat intelligence (or risk intelligence) systems come in. These services source (and in AlertMedia’s case, verify) information on emerging dangers from around the globe. You can then easily see which ones have the potential to harm your people, and when paired with an integrated multichannel communication system, can even send those alerts directly to the affected travelers.
Many risks apply to everyone in a certain geographic area. For example, let’s say that a “polar vortex” is approaching the northeast United States. You need to quickly communicate with everyone in that geographic area to alert them to the threat.
Company-wide messages that don’t affect the whole company can cause notification fatigue over time. So, you need a way to sort without wasting valuable time.
The solution is using an emergency communication system with geofencing capabilities. This allows you to set a region on a map and communicate with everyone in that region in real-time using GPS data from your employees’ smartphones. When combined with GPS traveler tracking, this enables targeted communication with the precise audience at risk for geography-specific threats.
How Software Can Bridge the Gap Between Steps
Up to this point, we’ve discussed the elements of effective travel risk management policies. All of these measures are necessary to minimize the disruption that travel risks can bring.
But you also need a way to bridge the gaps between proactive, reactive, preventative, and preparative steps. You need a proactive way to identify threats immediately once they emerge so you can react immediately and increase operational resilience.
The answer to this problem is adopting a travel risk management solution. These systems allow for integration between communications, threat intelligence, and travel security information. With one platform, you have every tool you need to keep track of all your travelers and the problems they might face and an easy way to communicate with them. You no longer need to use different tools for preparing, facilitating, and communicating about travel safety.
What Are Travel Risk Management Companies and Products?
Travel risk management products and services are meant to help safety and security teams meet their responsibilities to traveling employees by providing guidance, threat monitoring, communication, and more. The right products allow a team of any size to scale up and meet the safety requirements of a traveling workforce. Travel risk management solutions are provided by various companies, such as AlertMedia.
AlertMedia as a Part of Your Team
AlertMedia offers a comprehensive Travel Risk Management solution. Unlike most other systems, AlertMedia’s combines the power of our industry-leading mass communication and threat intelligence platforms and effortlessly overlays travel data in one easy-to-use interface.
By taking advantage of modern technology like AlertMedia’s, you can level up your travel risk management. While you can never eliminate the liabilities associated with traveling, you can mitigate them, protecting your people and giving you peace of mind.