ITIJ 197, June 2017
Randall Gordon-Duff, head of product, corporate travel, for Collinson Group in the UK, explains how in a world of converging yet diverse risk factors, business travellers must maintain vigilance and good judgment
If you ask someone what they first think of when you say the word ‘risk’, most will immediately remember the so-titled classic board game based on world domination, where players need to utilise complex strategy and skill and be constantly aware of the threat of opponents at their borders. Players inevitably lose when they focus too much on fending off the obvious menace from one opponent and are then blindsided by a seemingly smaller threat they miss.
This analogy is pertinent for business travellers; it is not unusual that travellers pay heightened attention to high-profile threats they have been warned about before their trips, so much so that they neglect the more mundane risks and make simple mistakes that they normally wouldn’t make at home. Take the example of a traveller who scrupulously validates that the pick-up car from the airport has been booked by the company. The person diligently double checks the licence plate, model of car and driver’s picture, and ensures corroborating code words are used. The same traveller then fails to strap in the seat belt and is involved in a life-changing crash on the way from the airport. This is the business traveller losing the game of Risk. People are inherently poor at recognising high-frequency risk factors, often because they focus too much on the worst-case scenarios.
High-frequency risks vs low-frequency risks
Many business travellers and firms don’t have a real grasp on risk; they confuse the profile of a risk with the likelihood of it occurring. Ensuring business travellers don’t jaywalk or avoid ostentatious shows of wealth may seem mundane, but simple advice and guidance such as this is pivotal in helping travellers avoid unnecessary injuries or accidents.
The highest profile risks such as terrorist attack or kidnapping are relatively infrequent. While travellers should be made aware of any such potential threats in the region they are visiting and be safeguarded against them, they need to be equally mindful of simple ‘hygiene’ safety factors. The reality is that travellers are much more exposed to high-frequency low-impact risks such as non-violent crime, road traffic accidents, stolen possessions or food poisoning in the course of ‘day-to-day’ life abroad.
Travellers often create their own risk
Trips abroad often involve entertainment and alcohol, which can result in serious injury or legal complications. Not to mention the legal ruling around drink driving can also vary widely from one jurisdiction to the next (and employers should ensure that their travelling staff is well informed of any local customs and common regulations). Again, business travellers can take simple, practical steps to mitigate the associated risk factors. This can be as simple as booking a licensed car to and from a venue, ensuring alcoholic drinks are interspersed with water, or ideally meeting in the hotel bar or restaurant where they are staying. For many, this is simple common sense, but we do see time and again that business travellers wrongly let down their guard when they relax into their surroundings. Hospitality is often an important element of working abroad. However, it is important people are aware that not only can drinking too much alcohol impair their judgement, it can invalidate an employer’s insurance policy, potentially leading to hefty financial liabilities.
The risk of being caught up in a difficult situation will vary markedly from region to region and country to country. For particularly high-risk regions, pre-deployment training tailored to the specific country being visited will be crucial. For example, companies sending employees to Latin and Central America, where risk of kidnap is elevated, should consider additional training on evasive driving and the need to regularly change patterns of movement. That walk at the same time every morning to get a coffee and a newspaper makes it easy for someone to track your movements and potentially rob or kidnap you. There are practical steps to take at a firm level as well, and employers would be well advised to extend kidnap protection and ransom cover beyond that of a general business travel accident policy.
Adhering to safety guidelines is not optional
Employers need to educate travelling employees that taking steps to ensure their health and wellbeing isn’t optional. Firms have a duty of care to employees but staff also have a contract with their employer and they share the responsibility to adhere to instructed guidelines to stay safe when abroad. Compliance with overseas risk protocols is therefore not a choice; it is an obligation of employment. For example, if an employee changes their hotel or wants to take a different flight to their location, they have a duty to inform their employer. The biggest single issue in tracking employees abroad is the human element – people going off grid on their own and failing to check in, or failing to carry the device being used for remote tracking. A centralised, approved travel booking system would be a helpful first step in helping companies gather intelligence about their travellers’ whereabouts. To encourage buy-in, employers can offer incentives such as access to airport lounges, concierge services, the ability to keep air miles and to upgrade flights, so that employees are more willing to comply.
The real risk is the unknown unknowns
The infamous speech by Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Secretary of Defence, regarding known knowns and unknown unknowns is actually very pertinent when it comes to business travel risk. He memorably stated: “There are … unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know … it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”
The difficulty for companies and business travellers is that they often focus too much on known risks, on the scams and threats they have been told to avoid and the protocols to adhere to. This sharpened awareness is no doubt crucial, but so is maintaining common sense, and employers need to have measures in place to prepare their travellers for a wide spectrum of differing risks. New threats are evolving all the time. Often a new risk is only identified when someone has become a victim. What business travellers need to be is vigilant and think back to Risk – if you focus only on the big peril you may not see the other threats at all.