The events of recent years have taught us that risk is not confined to areas of existing conflict. With terrorist attacks, natural disasters and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have become increasingly aware of the growing risks their traveling personnel face.

In a way, the pandemic has helped open the eyes of many enterprises and travelers to the broader implications of travel and risk in general. For organizations, the understandable necessity for greater levels of due diligence before a trip is driving the need for greater levels of information and intelligence — and, likewise, for tools to enable travel risk management programs to be more scalable.

Business travelers themselves are also looking for more information and a deeper understanding of potential travel risks and the impact of COVID-19 in destination locations. Employees want to know about restrictions and any new limitations that may be in place. They also want to know how to keep themselves safe while traveling and in-country and what to do should they require help. They want to feel confident that their organization can, and will, fully prepare and support them with both their physical and mental wellbeing.

With travelers becoming more acutely aware of potential risks relating to travel, their understanding of the need for risk assessments and duty of care compliance is also greater, helping to drive a more positive attitude toward travel risk management in general.

So, as we navigate a return to travel, how can business leaders and organizations expand or develop their travel risk management programs?

Pandemic aside, a sound travel risk management program goes far beyond considering how to deal with an incident should it happen. To be truly effective, it needs to fully encompass proactive and reactive measures and be part of a company-wide approach to risk. It needs to involve numerous internal and external stakeholders working to the same end.

To assess whether a travel risk management program is truly fit for its purpose, organizations should start by asking themselves a few basic questions:

  • Do we have clearly defined policies and procedures relating to travel (from a health, safety and security perspective) that are not just documented, but communicated and adhered to by all concerned?
  • Do we have access to reliable, real-time health, safety and security information that can be used to support travel decisions and be easily communicated to travelers before they embark on any trip?
  • Are all of our travelers provided with the necessary pre-travel training and relevant briefings to empower them as individuals?
  • Do we have a process for controlling travel to higher-risk regions?
  • In the event of a safety, security or health incident, are we able to locate and communicate with travelers and advise/support them accordingly?
  • Do we have a robust incident/crisis management plan for dealing with emergencies? And is the plan this regularly tested?
  • Do we have total confidence in all parties in our chain (both internal and external)?

Specialist travel risk management providers can help steer organizations through the critical stages of planning and execution and automate many of the processes to ensure that even organizations without internal resources can effectively navigate a safe return to travel.

In addition, a new International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard now provides a great framework for organizations to follow. ISO 31030 Travel Risk Management provides guidance on how to manage travel risks to organizations and their employees. Recently published, the standard sets out a structured approach to the development, implementation, evaluation and review of travel risk management policies and programs, as well as the assessment and treatment of travel risks. One of the aims of the standard is to promote a culture where travel-related risk is taken seriously, resourced adequately and managed effectively. ISO 31030 establishes clear guidelines for assessing risks related to travel and how to manage and benchmark those risks. It removes the guesswork and provides clarity in an area that has never been more critical.

The Future of Business Travel

When we look to the future, we need to consider both the long- and short-term view. In the long-term, travel will resume a sense of normalcy and eventually rebuild itself. However, in the short and medium term, organizations will need to think about travel very differently from how they have done in the past.

In the short-term, business leaders and organizations need to put far greater emphasis on the pre-trip due diligence process to understand the various elements of the trip and what risk mitigation looks like at each of the key stages. They will also need to look more closely at the destinations their travelers are visiting. Regions previously deemed ‘safe’ travel zones may now present a potential health risk in a way that they didn’t before, and organizations need to allow the time to understand the situation fully and undertake additional due diligence measures prior to any trip commencing.

With much attention understandably focused on the impact and implications of COVID-19 and how organizations can best navigate a safe return to travel, it would be easy to overlook the pre-existing risks that business travel can, and still does, pose. Organizations and travelers will still find themselves facing the same travel risks as before — from minor disruptions like travel delays to major threats such as conflict, terror attacks, weather events, natural disasters and violent protests and disorder. Those risks haven’t gone away, and it is important for organizations not to lose sight of those risks as they take the next steps to bring their travel risk management programs into the future.