Assistance & Repatriation Review | April 2019

Chris Knight, Head of Corporate Services for CEGA, opines on a new mental health phenomenon, and the impact that it could have on corporate assistance provision

If global travel intelligence platform Skift is right, ‘permanxiety’ could soon be the world’s new shared social experience; perhaps even the word on every corporate travel manager’s lips. 

Skift first came up with the term to describe the high levels of worry felt by today’s travellers, about everything from Trumpism to technology, terrorism to racial tension, culture wars to climate change. After all, 2018 alone saw a number of anxiety-inducing events, with two different tsunamis hitting Central Sulawesi and the coastline around the Sunda Strait, Indonesia, causing multiple casualties and widespread damage; Hurricane Michael wreaking havoc in North and South Carolina, becoming the worst US storm in 50 years; devastating wildfires striking California; a UN report warning that we may have as little as 12 years to combat climate change, or pass the point of no return; and visitors to the Christmas market in Strasbourg falling victim to a random act of terrorism. It’s not surprising that people spend a lot of time feeling worried.
But how, if at all, should it be shaping corporate assistance needs?
business travel spend is set to reach an unprecedented $1.7 trillion by 2022
Creating a climate of worry
Corporate travel assignments are expected to rise over the next decade – and significantly. According to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), business travel spend is set to reach an unprecedented $1.7 trillion by 2022.  
At the same time, business travel is expected to be increasingly synonymous with emerging destinations. The GBTA predicts that India and Indonesia will be the fastest growing markets in the sector over the next five years, with India likely to reach the global top-five by 2022. And a recent report by Travelport and the World Travel and Tourism Council shows business travel spend rising in emerging markets, not least in countries like Azerbaijan, Qatar and Mozambique.  
Meanwhile, terrorist attacks in Europe, natural disasters in the US and political changes globally are shifting our perceptions of traditionally safe destinations. All of which means evolving travel worries too.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Association of Corporate Travel Executives reports that a third of travel managers are seeing a rise in enquiries about business traveller safety. Or that, according to the GBTA, over 50 per cent of corporate travellers now think any destination could be high-risk; almost the same amount is worried about terrorist attacks abroad; and over 20 per cent see North American and Western European countries as only ‘somewhat safe’.
Ten worries in the life of a globally mobile employee:
  • Is there a risk of infectious diseases or unsafe drinking water?
  • What if local healthcare isn’t up to scratch and it’s hard to get essential medication for my family?
  • How likely are natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes or floods and will I get any warning?
  • How will I know how to react to a terrorist attack, and what if my employer can’t find me in its aftermath?
  • Will getting to hospital be difficult?
  • What about handling muggings and racially motivated attacks?
  • How can I avoid cultural no-nos?
  • My accommodation may get broken into and roads may not be safe.
  • Credit card or mobile phone cloning and insecure Wi-Fi may put me at risk.
  • I’m not sure if my employer will make me feel prepared.
Great expectations
Recent GBTA surveys show that 73 per cent of business travellers expect their company to contact them proactively within two hours of an emergency abroad. They also reveal that almost half (44 per cent) of travellers expect their employers to use tools like GPS to locate them in an emergency. 
Meanwhile, we are now seeing business travellers expecting the same seamless access to healthcare and security services the world over, whether they are in a developed country or not. It follows that clients in the corporate travel sector have an increasing hunger for assistance tools that enable them not just to react rapidly to emergencies, but also to support travelling employees before, during and after assignments abroad – and to reduce worries in the process. 
The role of assistance partners
Reducing a travelling employee’s permanxiety means anticipating and mitigating the risks of every stage of a trip overseas – and that includes the journey. Preparation is crucial, not least via pre-travel medical and security risk assessments, employee training for all eventualities, and education about everything from preventing mosquito bites and road accidents to avoiding cultural gaffes. 
Equally essential is constant awareness of 
‘permanxiety’ describes the high levels of worry felt by today’s travellers
real-time health and security risks once an employee is abroad – for example, the likelihood of disease, impending bad weather, or political unrest. And this must come hand-in-hand with expert medical and security advice and responses. 
But delivering these risk mitigation measures is as important as planning them – and that’s where technology plays a vital part. 
Essential tools
According to GSMA Intelligence, there are now more mobile devices in the world than people, and these devices are multiplying a lot faster than we are. But they are also playing an important part in preparing, informing and protecting employees working abroad. All of which translates to reduced worries. 
A mobile app can offer access to everything from pre-travel training to real-time medical and security intelligence and alerts. With location-based monitoring, check-in and tracking tools, it can give employers a birds’ eye view of their global staff and assets in the context of real-time threats on the ground abroad – so they can find, warn and assist staff quickly, if emergency strikes. Importantly, an app can also offer employees speedy access to integrated medical and security assistance and remote advice, tailored to specific destinations and needs. 
And it’s not just anxious employees who benefit: hand-held risk management tools can reduce the frequency and severity of emergencies overseas too, cutting costs for employers as a result. In this context, it’s clear that traditional global assistance just doesn’t cut it, and the onus is on assistance partners to act proactively – both to protect customers and to reduce anxiety the world over.
surveys show that 73 per cent of business travellers expect their company to contact them proactively within two hours of an emergency abroad
What if …
... a travelling employee is worried about a medical problem in a remote and hostile area abroad? The right advice is not available locally and a good hospital could be dangerous to reach, but they need to see a doctor and any delay could turn a routine condition into an emergency. The clock is ticking.
If this individual’s employer can access pre-planned and integrated medical and security assistance, real-time travel risks can be assessed quickly. A secure ambulance could soon be taking the employee to a good hospital elsewhere, accompanied by an armed escort. And he or she would be in the safe hands of a skilled medic.
And if this seamless medical and security support wasn’t available? The employee’s worries could have been well-founded …

Chris Knight is head of corporate services, CEGA Group, a Charles Taylor company. In his senior positions in the British Army and security services industry, Chris underwent numerous tactical deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and specialised in operational planning and intelligence analysis. He also managed medical, security and natural disaster evacuations from complex and challenging environments. Today, in his role at CEGA, Chris focuses on risk management and assistance for corporate travellers in the context of combined medical and security provision.