Travel risk management evolution of technology and skillsets
With a new awareness of travel risks facing globally mobile workers, travel risk management companies are offering new tools to mitigate the perils faced around the world. Mandy Langfield reports
Travel Risk Management (TRM) requires organisations to anticipate and assess the potential impact of events, develop mitigations and communicate anticipated risk exposures to their employees. As Covid continues to reshape the world of travel as we know it, business travellers are starting to venture out again for face-to-face meetings and events, and they are more aware now than they were pre pandemic of the kind of health and security risks they are facing. Scott Sunderman, Managing Director, Medical and Security Assistance, Collinson, told ITIJ: “The uninterrupted desire for business travel has resulted in a more rigorous pre-travel risk assessment process where the benefits of the trip are weighed up against the many risks and complications. Many corporates are updating their TRM policy, or in some cases implementing one for the first time.”
When a business faces significant disruptions or suffers the financial impact due to something gone wrong with their travel programme, what happens is that they tend to move very quickly towards the adoption of a TRM solution that can ensure that it does not happen again, and the company has no legal exposure. While many companies started implementing this post 9/11, and many others after the terrorist attacks in Europe in 2015-2017, for others, the ultimate trigger has been the Covid-19 pandemic.
Late last year, the introduction of a TRM standard from ISO also resulted in an increased focus on how processes can be refined and standardised to ensure high quality of risk management procedures. As Frank Harrison, Regional Security Director, North America, for World Travel Protection, said: “ISO 31030:2021 Travel Risk Management is front of mind for many organisations, and we are seeing more organisations creating dedicated TRM-focused roles. When organisations dusted off the pre-Covid travel policies, the driver for change and reform is travelling workers who expect their employers to listen to their concerns and address the duty of care.”
How corporate clients view travel risk management
Greg Pearson, Founder and CEO of FocusPoint International, pointed out that while approaches to TRM differ across organisations, one thing is true: “The impact Covid has had, and possibly could have, on their respective organisations is top of mind. Destination-based medical risk assessments are now the norm.” Corporate customers also want to know how infection rates are trending, entry and exit requirements, how many medical facilities there are and more importantly, how many beds each facility has in each of the destinations their travellers frequent.
Access to up-to-date information about travel destinations, including the inherent medical risks in-country, is key. Sunderman noted: “Pre-pandemic, the medical risk of a country did not change a great deal over time. The latent risk of disease (such as malaria), the quality of medical care and support in country – were factors that were not typically subject to much change. Today, any country can potentially become high risk given a resurgent outbreak.” Local restrictions imposed by the authorities can also have a large impact on travellers caught in a sudden lockdown restrictions.
Destination-based medical risk assessments are now the norm
Emanuele Scansani, Director of Partnerships, Riskline, believes that there has been a fundamental shift in how corporate clients approach risk management. While travel disruption mitigation has always been part of a TRM company’s role, the likelihood of disruptions happening seems to be an awful lot more common these days. “The focus has shifted from the traditional travel risks to the mere fact of trying to navigate a jungle of new travel restrictions and measures that governments put in place in response to the pandemic. Key here is that while the world indeed stopped travelling, the need to access immediate and verified travel risk intelligence only increased,” he told ITIJ. Consequently, there have been a lot of changing priorities in the industry, with travel, security and HR managers working to support the mobility of employees now working from home. The focus is now on preparedness and pre-trip planning, assistance or health assessments.
Matthew Judge, Managing Director of Business Solutions, Everbridge, agrees that the most significant change the company has seen from its clients with regards to their approach to TRM is them becoming proactive instead of reactive: “Covid made every destination around the world, to some extent, a high-risk destination,” he added. “The levels of due diligence organisations had to undertake should they wish to travel were increased. They have to understand any relevant restrictions imposed on business travellers entering the country, whether a quarantine period is required, any documentation or permission to enter the country that needs to be produced. All those aspects made the risk assessments, the due diligence, and the proactivity for medical understanding and medical services much higher on the corporate agenda to enable people to travel.”
Adam St John, CEO of Sitata, concurred that awareness of risk and the need to mitigate it is now more important for organisations: “Covid-19 has increased awareness to the necessity of having a proper duty of care programme in place, especially for medium-sized businesses who might have been previously unaware. In addition, health risk discussions are now more prevalent.”
Corporate clients are now looking for additional services and tools to aid decision making
Ben Longworth, Director of Security Services for On Call International, commented: “Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve seen a greater shift in priorities from focusing on the reactive components of travel risk management – such as reacting to a medical or security incident overseas – to the more proactive components such as pre-travel education, crisis preparedness training, and risk mitigation planning.” There’s also undoubtedly been a greater emphasis placed on how to set travellers up for success in handling the more common, ‘day-to-day’ aspects of their travels such as navigating complex entry requirements, performing pre-travel destination research and understanding how to get safe transportation to and from their hotels, he added.
Louise Heywood, General Manager, International Assistance Group (IAG), added: “Rather than rely solely on their travel insurance policy, more corporate clients are now looking for additional services and tools to aid decision making and increase their understanding of potential risks associated with their employees’ travel plans.”
There’s little doubt that there’s also an increased focus on company Duty of Care. “Company approval processes also became more complex,” said Heywood. “While some may have used the risk of Covid to reduce their travel spend in favour of video meetings, others remained genuinely nervous of putting their employees at risk. There’s a much greater focus on travel risk now, more than ever. Previously, corporate clients could be fairly complacent, particularly for destinations traditionally considered ‘safe’.”
TRM tools – adapting and improving to enhance services to travellers
Better information leads to improved preparation – and improved preparation can significantly reduce the impact or likelihood of an incident from occurring in the first place. Since Covid, TRM tools have adapted and improved. They have advanced from simply warning travellers about events that have the potential to disrupt their plans or put them at risk, to include all local border, state and/or territory travel restrictions. These are complex and have continue to change rapidly. Previously, warning-only style alerts were often ignored, seen as either not relevant or too frequent. Heywood told ITIJ: “We’ve seen an increase in the willingness of employees to provide their location status through pps. At IAG, we made the decision early in the pandemic to provide partners with an API feed to our proprietary Globus database to help their assistance coordinators access reliable, up-to-date information to respond to questions from travellers.” She also predicted that the spike in telemedicine apps could be sustained as travellers seek reassurance from doctors more frequently if they think, for example, that they may have Covid symptoms while travelling.
Matthew Judge pointed out: “Technology itself isn’t a travel risk management programme: it is a tool that enables a travel risk management programme to be effective and scalable across an organisation.” And later on in the TRM process, that technology has another role to play: “We need a mechanism to be able to alert travellers to those emerging and dynamic threats that occur when they’re in location or on a business trip,” he continued. “Therefore, we need to have technology in place to be able to communicate and fulfil our Duty To Warn obligations and alert those travellers, expats, and populations to threats that might be occurring in their location and may potentially impact them, and giving them the opportunity to avoid that area, mitigate the risk, or ask for help if needed so that the organisation knows they might be vulnerable.”
On the topic of how the TRM tools at travellers’ disposal have changed to reflect the risks being faced, Pearson said: “Our web-based platform and mobile assistance app now includes specific data related to Covid-19. Our 24/7 concierge service now includes advice and assistance with navigating the fluid entry and exit requirements, to include testing when needed. Our standard benefits now include Covid-19 mandatory quarantine expense cover and hospital to hospital medical transfer for corporate travellers that become hospitalised due to Covid-19 during a qualifying period of travel.”
WTP also now includes Covid-19 data in its pre-travel briefings, so travellers can check current covid requirements at destinations and get immediate medical support if they have questions, concerns, or are sick. “Beyond Covid,” added Harrison, “we have enhanced the customers' tools with more interactive risk and intelligence information and location-specific alert capabilities.”
Adam St John said: “Sitata first warned travellers about Covid-19 in December of 2019 when it was being reported as an unusual number of cases of pneumonia. As a result, we had very early insight into the event and we were able to anticipate the eventual fallout. Sitata was one of the first to offer a comprehensive suite of information regarding Covid-19 health statistics and updates to the various government-imposed entry requirement rule changes. We launched our API in February of 2020 and a promotional tool called Covid Checker (https://www.covidchecker.com) in March of 2020. This led to new partnerships with organisations such as Wizz Air and Qatar Airways. We also incorporated this new data into Radar, our traveller tracking tool, such that any travel manager can quickly understand what the Covid health risk is or what’s required for entry to a particular country. Our platform also notifies travellers of any changes that might be occurring after they have planned a trip.”
Scansani explained that Riskline decided to develop a Covid microsite, which still today collects the large volume of Covid-related data the company compiles, and was designed to help security, travel and HR managers looking for answers. “Soon thereafter, we realised that all those suppliers in the corporate travel industry that had a larger role for technology needed a highly structured API that could be integrated into their products, which has led to multiple versions of our Covid API,” he added. “Lastly, to satisfy the need of travellers, and offer a first line of information to travel managers, we decided to roll out TravelCheck, our Covid widget that combines a user-friendly interface with accurate Covid information.”
Everyone’s TRM solutions had to adapt to take in more information from clients and give them more information in return, as Judge exemplified: “What has changed is the development of our pre-assignment, pre-travel medical screening system that allows us to evaluate an individual’s physical medical position, and also some of their psychological levels of resilience, to be able to undertake certain types of trips and assignments to certain destinations. Initially we built a technology-based solution that helps make it dramatically scalable for organisations that have a large number of travellers. Then we mixed that with a physical human resource to also screen some of those assessments and provide advice and further insight once we understand that someone might have a pre-existing condition that may be exacerbated by the destination they’re travelling to. And, we’ve included Sherpa in our tools. Sherpa gives us the relevant information for any given country’s requirements for entry and exit based on Covid regulations of that nation.”
Balancing technology and human resources to ensure the right response is given to clients
Technology can play an important part with booking travel, and tracking apps can map destination risk to a traveller's Passenger Name Record (PNR), geo-location or booking information, giving them the salient information pre-travel or whilst they are on the move, pointed out Sunderman. This enables the automatic pushing of travel advisories to overseas staff and employers to give them advice and call to action depending on the emerging threat in that location. “Response services,” he added, “if an individual is caught up in a situation overseas, are case managed by experts (medical, security and logistics) who typically sit in a 24/7 response centre and will activate credentialed ground providers in any country around the world to assist in a case.”
Technology can play an important part with booking travel, and tracking apps can map destination risk to a traveller's Passenger Name Record, geo-location or booking information
Adam St John said: “Since its formation, Sitata has always placed a high priority on developing technology to improve customer experiences and operational efficiency. We use technology to ensure we deliver the right information to the right person at the right time. In an emergency situation, we leverage chat and video through our web and mobile apps which help us manage emergency situations across multiple languages.”
Pearson added: “Covid-19 hasn’t really impacted the way in which we respond to clients during an emergency. We have and will continue to provide 24/7 on-demand access to highly trained medical, security, travel, and crisis response specialists to address our customers’ needs. Accessing assistance during an emergency hasn’t changed either. Customers can simply hit the emergency assistance button in our mobile assistance app or call us at any time day or night.”
It’s a balancing act, said Scansani, and not every company will have the capacity to invest in technology-based tools to boost their TRM programme. “It is important to stress that not every company will require a complex, very robust, end-to-end travel risk management programme,” he explained. “Understandably, there is a large cost component to the introduction of such a service and every company, including SMEs, needs to face budgetary restrictions. In terms of Duty of Care, much can be achieved with the right insurance coverage for travelling and non-travelling employees: but that only represents a bare minimum, which is not in itself enough. Travellers – and indeed all employees – need to be offered ongoing access to travel risk intelligence relating to their place of work, place of living, and travel destinations.”
Judge added: “If a traveller, expat or employee is impacted by that event in some way, or they’re asking for help, that’s where you need a good form of Human Resources to step in and engage with those travellers or respond to their requests for help. We need to build and supply some of those contingency plans and get the help to the people on the ground as, and when, they need it.”
Better engagement from clients means more informed travellers
So, are people more aware of the risks they face now when they travel for business? The simple answer from everyone ITIJ spoke to for this article? A resounding ‘yes’. Judge confirmed: “Risk assessment and the due diligence performed prior to business trips are now being sought more frequently – we are seeing the due diligence into the destinations. From a political, economic, security, terrorism, environmental, cyber, and legal perspective, organisations are a lot more stringent than before.”
Pearson mused: “We certainly saw an uptick in engagement at the beginning of the pandemic. Now it’s a mixed bag. Engagement with some customers has slowed, while others has increased. And while our leisure segment is scaling rapidly, some of our corporate customers have replaced routine business travel with Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings.”
St John said: “We have seen an increase in mobile app adoption and general use from both travel managers and their travelling staff. In addition, we have seen a boost in interest from small and medium-sized businesses which we attribute to an increased awareness for the need and benefits of a comprehensive travel risk management programme.”
There are a lot of considerations for companies to keep in mind when developing a TRM, and for clients choosing them. Not least of which is an increasingly diverse workforce, pointed out Scansani: “No matter what TRM solution you adopt, it must be inclusive of a diverse workforce, keeping in mind that not every employee is the same and so their risk profile can greatly change. So a TRM programme needs to serve the female, LGBTQ+, and black, indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) workforce.”
There’s no doubt that there exists a growing focus on companies to engage in TRM as the appetite to conduct cross-border business returns. The release of ISO:31030 also put TRM more firmly on the C-suite agenda and can help companies new to TRM to build out an initial framework.
Being proactive means mitigating travel risk in advance. It means being aware of the risk, understanding that risk, understanding the organisation and the individual business travellers’ vulnerability to that risk, and taking steps to try and mitigate that risk to reduce the impact to an acceptable level for the organisation and for the traveller. Thankfully, it seems the TRM companies are offering everything – and more – that business travellers need to successfully navigate this new world in which we find ourselves.