Keep Employees Safe While Traveling
As companies seek out growth opportunities around the world, the odds that business travelers may encounter high-risk situations increases accordingly. Employee travel risks come in many forms, ranging from the mundane missed flight or lost luggage, to a terrorist attack or kidnapping with the potential for far worse consequences.
Because of the growing array of perils involved in business travel, more and more companies are taking steps to mitigate the impact of travel risk, which is the right thing to do from both a moral and pragmatic business perspective.
How a company executes its mitigation efforts will depend on who is travelling and to where, and on the specific risks associated with that destination.
Traveler-specific Risk Assessment
As someone on a short business trip or staying for prolonged periods at a foreign destination, who you are – taken in the broadest possible sense of the question – is an important factor in determining the associated travel risks you might face. Are you a C-suite executive in a politically sensitive industry like energy? Are you an American citizen? Are you a female traveling alone?
Nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender – these are just some of the factors that can contribute to an individual traveler’s risk profile. For example, Westerners are at greater risk today when traveling or residing for extended periods in parts of the Middle East, certain countries in Southeast Asia, and other global “hotspots.”
Gender is also a factor that has to be considered. In many countries, women are not viewed as equals and may be perceived as easier targets than men. So it is important when traveling to do research beforehand to learn about local attitudes towards women. Travel safety experts advise women to trust their instincts. If a situation feels “wrong” in a restaurant or bar or on the street – leave immediately, if possible, and avoid confrontations.
Destination-specific Risk Assessment
Some parts of the world today are simply less safe than others. As companies explore opportunities in more volatile regions of the world, a wide variety of risks emerge even for the most experienced traveler. Here are a few:
Many developing countries lack the modern medical facilities citizens of developed countries take for granted. Moreover, even in developing nations where such facilities can be found, they are often available only in major urban areas. Companies have a responsibility to determine beforehand what kind of medical help is available in the areas where their employees will be traveling. When sufficient medical resources are not available, contingency plans should be in place to ensure that transportation to appropriate facilities can be made available – quickly – if and when needed.
The threat of being kidnapped for corporate ransom money or to serve a broader political agenda is always a possibility that needs to be considered when traveling to high-risk areas. Companies should make a full risk assessment for every location to which they are sending their employees, and all employees should receive training on what to do in the event that a kidnapping happens, so that they have the practical skills to increase the odds of survival and to limit the psychological impact of the experience.
When operating in certain regions such as portions of the Middle East, the threat of falling victim to terrorism is, even if remote, a very real possibility. For example, in January 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey, an Islamist extremist wore and activated a vest of explosives killing 10 tourists, all foreigners.1 The terrorist targeted Sultanahmet, a busy tourist attraction and one of the world’s most visited places.
And the potential for being involved in a terrorist incident in all parts of the world is becoming more common, as we have seen recently with the attacks in France, Belgium, Germany and the U.S.
These incidents highlight the need for companies operating in high-risk environments to reassess their insurance and security arrangements. Companies are increasingly calling on their risk managers to work in concert with their travel, security, and human resources functions to develop integrated travel programs and protocols that address all of the above concerns – and more. The challenge is a difficult one, but it is vital to protect employee safety, as well as a company’s ability to continue operations in the event a worst-case scenario occurs.
1 Ceylan Yeginsu and Tim Arango. “Istanbul Explosion Kills 10 Tourists, and ISIS Is Blamed.” The New York Times, January 12, 2016. Accessed online on June 21, 2016 at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/13/world/europe/explosion-in-istanbul-tourist-district-kills-at-least-10.html.