How to manage business travel risk in the new normal

Road to travel recovery may be long but it’s negotiable, says International SOS

A recent GBTA poll revealed that more than 40%  of members believe their next international trip will be more than a year away.
A recent GBTA poll revealed that more than 40% of members believe their next international trip will be more than a year away. Photo Credit: Getty

The road to recovery for business travel will be rocky but global medical and security services firm, International SOS, believes that a path can be cleared if companies recognise how to plan and implement “robust and flexible travel policies”.

“Through careful planning that supports their employees from pre-trip to post-return, organisations will be able to weather the uncertainties of this pandemic, and build a safe, resilient and sustainable future for their workforce,” says Low Kiang Wei, medical director, International SOS.

A recent poll of GBTA (Global Business Travel Association) members revealed that more than 40% believe their next international trip would be more than a year away, while 31% indicated travel resuming somewhere between seven and 12 months.

Flight Centre Travel Group’s latest ‘State of the Market’ survey drew similar responses. In particular, national businesses in USA, Australia, China and New Zealand were less likely to have long-haul international plans for 2021, indicating only domestic and short-haul international travel will be planned for next year.

Some 29% of respondents from China said they won’t be travelling long haul, while 22% of respondents in New Zealand, 16% in Australia and 7% in the USA indicated the same.

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Organisations must build a culture that acknowledges the new realities of business travel, according to International SOS medical director, Low Kiang Wei.

More encouraging for airlines is a World Economic Forum survey of company managers which found that global remote working was “not the escape from the intense conditions of business travel that you might think”.

“Managers found that it still meant extended workdays in order to connect across time zones. They were generally bored of Zoom meetings and eager to get back in the air, despite the intensive lifestyle it creates and work-family conflicts.

“It appears that global travel is ingrained in the culture of their companies, and will remain part of these managers’ DNA,” WEF noted.

Deutsche Bank is also taking a ‘glass-half-full’ view of the pandemic. The bank believes global GDP will bounce back to pre-pandemic levels by mid-2021. Deutsche Bank’s global head of economic research, Peter Hooper, said the economic recovery has “proceeded significantly faster than we envisioned”.

Suzanne Sangiovese, commercial and communications director at Copenhagen-based Riskline, a company which provides global travel risk intelligence, said it’s understandable that international travel is recovering at a slow pace.

“There's traveller confidence and wellbeing for a start, with many unwilling to board a plane or travel in areas they're unfamiliar with and take the risk of having to quarantine once they return home.”

Low of International SOS says to manage these fears, organisations must build a culture that “acknowledges the challenges and new realities of business travel, and ensures that employees feel safe and protected by the organisation”.

Riskline's Suzanne Sangiovese believes we're witnessing the hyper-localisation of business travel.
Riskline's Suzanne Sangiovese believes we're witnessing the hyper-localisation of business travel.

He says this could involve running educational campaigns for employees to communicate the return to operations plan and organising employee Q&A sessions to address lingering doubts.

“Companies can also arrange pre-trip briefings to help their travellers prepare for the security or health risks in their destinations, either conducted by their in-house medical and security colleagues, or in partnership with workforce risk management providers,” he says.

International SOS advises organisations compiling travel policies to keep in mind “their diverse travelling workforce with differing personal risk profiles, who will be travelling to locations with varying and ever-evolving health and security threat levels”.

Riskline’s Sangiovese says most businesses are now focusing on what is happening on their own doorstep and they need information that reflects this.

“With logistical and psychological barriers to international travel, it’s domestic travel that’s now leading the return to business travel. We're witnessing the hyper-localisation of business travel – and the travel risk intelligence which supports it,” she says.

“Companies now need to think ‘hyperlocal’ and consider any risks posed by the immediate surroundings and what impact this may have on employee safety, travel plans and wellbeing.”