Travel Risk Management: What Your Company Needs to Know
Business travel can provide many unique benefits, 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 likely it is 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. The aspects of your operations that have the most moving parts and require the most planning also have the highest potential to go wrong.
Maybe the most universal application of this principle 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—that’s why it’s rebounding after the pandemic. But it also brings huge risks. That’s where travel risk management comes in.
What Is Travel Risk Management?
Travel risk management is the practice of anticipating, preventing, and reacting to dangers that business travelers may face on their journeys. This can include dangerous weather, social unrest, terrorism, natural disasters, public health events like pandemics, 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 a threat does materialize. 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.
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. These threats include security risks like flight crashes, contracting dangerous diseases while abroad, massive cybersecurity breaches abroad, 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. When it comes to things like 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 even 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 your travel date. Go to the CDC’s travel website and enter the country you’re traveling to—it will tell you which diseases are the biggest threats and which vaccines you need to take.
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 policy.
When it comes to disease outbreaks—like the Coronavirus pandemic—the right choice might simply be: don’t travel at all. In the early weeks of the Coronavirus pandemic, an area-specific travel limitation (specifically, the Hubei Province) sufficed. Now, that guidance has been changing on a daily basis. It’s important to stay up-to-date on the most recent threat advisories for evolving situations to protect everyone’s well-being.
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.
To prepare for severe weather, the first step is to check the forecast. Once the plane touches down at your destination, it’s too late to figure out that a cold front is coming through. If you check the forecast as the trip approaches, you will be able to pack appropriately. (Check out our article dedicated to cold weather safety tips.) Also, make sure your employees are equipped with the appropriate emergency weather alerts.
If your company is large and corporate travel is frequent, manual investigation and preparation for every trip are likely too resource-heavy. Consider implementing a travel safety app or threat monitoring system which will automatically warn you when severe weather (or some other threat) emerges which could impact your business travelers.
For flight delays or other similar travel disruptions, the key is maintaining productivity through these disturbances. For any in-person meetings scheduled for the day of travel, make sure you also have a backup plan: either a video or phone conference is likely the best alternative.
Also, make sure global travelers are prepared to work in the airport for some time if necessary. Even if they don’t plan on working on the plane, their laptop should never be in their checked bag. (This also reduces the chances of it getting lost in a misplaced-baggage situation.) Portable chargers, noise-canceling headphones, and mobile hotspots are also good to bring along.
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 in regard to business continuity—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 that you 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 get your message delivered 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 in Las Vegas and you know that one or more of your employees is currently in Vegas. In less than a minute, you can send out a wellness check to each of those employees, surveying if they are safe or in need of assistance.
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. This enables targeted communication with the precise audience at risk for geography-specific threats.
Bridging the Gaps 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 solution to this problem is implementing a threat monitoring system, like AlertMedia’s. This system will proactively scan for threats all over the world—using data from trusted threat sources and hundreds of analysts—and cross-reference those threats with your employees’ real-time locations.
As soon as a threat emerges that could put one of your business travelers at risk, the system automatically notifies admins (or end-users directly), warning them of the threat and giving them up-to-date risk information and actionable advice.
Best of all, the system integrates with AlertMedia’s industry-leading mass notification system—giving you the dynamic communication capabilities you need to react to the threat effectively. The integration allows you to send a message specifically to those employees impacted by the threat in question—and no one else.
By taking advantage of modern technology like AlertMedia’s, you can level up your travel risk management. While you can never eliminate the risks associated with traveling, you can mitigate them, protecting your people as they chart new business territories.