Political unrest, terror attacks, natural disasters, epidemics – (perceived) insecurity is on the rise among business travelers. This poses new challenges for travel risk management.
Despite all the digital innovations, the number of business trips is increasing year after year: they open doors and drive growth. It is therefore hardly a surprise that in the American Express Global Business Travel (GBT)’s European Business Travel Barometer, around 50 percent of those surveyed said that they classified business trips not as a cost, but as an investment. And costs are also taking a backseat elsewhere: security is increasingly prioritized as the most important aim of travel management. Accordingly, 65 percent of respondents to a survey in Business Travel News (BTN) stated that travel risk management was becoming much more of a focus.
Pent-up demand for travel risk management in medium-sized companies
In an era where countries and regions can go from being safe travel destinations to “trouble spots” in a matter of hours, it is not only companies’ duty of care which is encouraging them to act on security. Ultimately, business interests are also a factor: anyone who has aspirations in global growth markets needs to send their expert staff abroad – however, their willingness to go decreases rapidly in uncertain situations. Insecurity is on the rise, according to an Ipsos MORI Institute survey which found that 72 percent believe the risk of travel to be distinctly heightened. Consequently, major companies are raising their investment in travel risk management: according to BTN, 82 percent of companies with annual travel expenses of over $50 million have increased their focus on this issue – while the figure is only 52 percent among companies with travel expenses less than $10 million. The German Travel Management Association (Verband Deutsches Reisemanagement) arrived at similar figures and came to the conclusion that medium-sized companies had a pent-up demand for travel risk management.
A range of challenges
Whether large or small, companies must react and establish integrated travel risk management systems. At the moment, responsibility for this tends to end up with travel management, corporate security, health, safety and/or risk management or even the travelers themselves. If we examine the biggest challenges for moderating travel risk, the following picture emerges:
|Educating employees about travel risks||49 %|
|Communicating during a crisis||47 %|
|Tracking employee travel||42 %|
|Confirming that employees have read pre-travel information||37 %|
|Travel risk policy compliance||31 %|
|Managing crisis||31 %|
|Business continuity planning||23 %|
|Implementing a travel risk policy||23 %|
|Confirming that employees have taken travel risk training||23 %|
|Understanding legal obligations to travelers||22 %|
|Management buy-in of travel risk policy||18 %|
Greatest challenges in mitigating travel risks; source: Ipsos MORI Institute
Alongside employee training – a traveler who is well-informed on risks will be better placed to avoid typical dangers and react appropriately in emergency situations – and crisis communication and response, it is key for the company that they know where their employees are (or should be) at any given moment.
Traveler tracking: privacy vs. security
For companies whose employees take a lot of business trips, in-house organization of the entire travel risk management process can quickly become an impossible task. One option for fulfilling their duty of care for traveling employees is to work with risk management service providers such as International SOS, United HealthCare, iJet, or Drum Cussac. They support their customers in prevention (travel preparation information, risk assessment, training, etc.) as well as operation: from traveler tracking and emergency communication to arranging medical help and organizing evacuations.
When it comes to traveler risk management, traveler tracking is a particularly sensitive issue. According to the European Business Travel Barometer, almost two thirds of all companies are already using this technology. Companies can decide between itinerary-based solutions, which aggregate relevant data from different booking systems, and solutions using the traveler’s mobile or GPS data:
1 Booking data
Booking data is currently mostly used to understand which employees are staying (or planning to stay) where. Travelers can be supplied with targeted information regarding their destination based on this. The problem: this data is limited to certain points (e.g. the airport or booked hotel) and only provides information on where the employee should be – a clear disadvantage in a crisis.
2 Mobile and GPS data
Mobile data and GPS tracking involve the installation of software on a traveler’s smartphone or laptop which can determine and transmit its location, i.e. the employee’s actual location is always known and information can be supplied to them in real time. This concept is highly beneficial in a crisis, notwithstanding questions of data and privacy rights: Firstly, this involves a significant invasion of the employee’s privacy, as they can be monitored 24/7, and secondly, there is the challenge of ensuring this sensitive data is protected from unauthorized access. In this instance, provisions must be put in place which are in line with country-specific data protection laws.
Increasing security and comfort
PASS supports several of the above mentioned risk management service providers retrieving current PNR data, which we generate directly from the GDS. This ensures transparency at any given moment with regard to which trips are planned and which travelers should be where. This not only increases security, but also permits preventive measures which make traveling a more relaxed process for employees. The eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 is just one example: Its cloud of ash brought European air traffic to a standstill for days, stranding passengers across the globe – a situation which so many business travelers could have been spared from.
If the PNR data is linked to information regarding the traveler’s current whereabouts, this is a major added boost to security and comfort. Of course, there are questions regarding data protection – but at the end of the day, in the era of Facebook, Google et al, everyone already knows everything about me. I personally do not post anything, but anyone who wishes to invade my privacy probably already has the right zero-day exploit to do so. Amazon has known my shopping habits better than I do myself for years, Google knows exactly what I’m searching for online, and Microsoft logs my business practices somewhere, too. In my eyes, there is no other choice than to trust that my data is not being used in another context. Ultimately, we live in an era where misconduct can land a company in the middle of an online storm that can tear apart their business (United Airlines is a recent case in point).
A balance between security and privacy must be achieved – and this can be done using the off switch. Some applications allow this. However, some companies take a low-tolerance approach with the stance: anyone who doesn’t switch on tracking, stays at home. In my opinion, the key to success is providing functions which make life easier. Create joy instead of concerns. People are more willing to give up their privacy if they get a benefit. TSA “Known Travelers” are a good example. I am one of them and it brings me great pleasure to glide past the queues at security – without having to undergo a body scan, unpack my laptop and take off my shoes.
How important is travel risk management to your company? What is your view on the great traveler tracking debate: does security come before privacy or the other way around?
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