by Sam Hart, Chief Information Officer, Agiito
Just as the risks associated with connecting have changed, the way we manage them is evolving too.
It can sound overwhelming straight off the bat but risk impacts everyone who travels. Employers and employees need to be proactive, plan for an expanded range of risk scenarios and be agile enough to react almost immediately. It can be an exhausting in-house exercise for organisations that don't have the right support around them. But with Travel Management Companies (TMCs), companies aren't starting from zero. We've been planning for, finding solutions and navigating risks since the first booking was made and we aren't about to stop now.
The numbers are plain to see, people are connecting again and business travel is on its way back, so, it's important that organisations have risk management capabilities at their fingertips. That’s because, although solid steps have been deployed to meet the risks of Covid, we still need to expect the unexpected beyond it.
What is travel risk now?
Travel-related risk has shifted from on-trip to pre-trip. Pre-Covid, risk centred on a traveller visiting an unfamiliar destination or region. This meant arriving travellers were unsure whether to catch a cab or walk to the hotel. Post-pandemic, risk relates to whether to visit these countries at all and, if so, whether the hotel is Covid-secure.
Other risk factors include the timing of the trip, mode of transport, travel disruption, quarantine requirements (especially when a country changes its travel advice overnight), local hospital capacity and availability of medical supplies. Together with the continuing risk of Covid variants and the risk that restrictions could be reimposed, risk is magnified.
Travel has inherent risks on two levels:
The risk to the employer.
The risk and inconvenience to the individual traveller.
The former manifests in absenteeism, lost productivity and damaged brand reputation. The latter by pre-existing health conditions, overall physical and mental wellbeing, family and peer pressure. It's fair to say that employers have never been more mindful of the need to protect their employees’ physical and mental health.
But the risk of inconvenience can't be ignored either. Travellers are interested in practicalities like whether to allow another hour to get through airport security or if a lateral flow test is needed before staying at a certain hotel. It’s this type of information that needs to be incorporated into travellers’ itineraries, thereby introducing the management of the inconvenience risk to mitigate the impact on the travellers’ ability to fulfil their role. Travellers also need to know they are supported by their employer when travelling and by their TMC via 24/7 support and real-time travel information.
Travel Risk Assessments.
The International Standard Organisation’s ISO 31030 (Risk Travel Management – Guidance for Organization) is there to assist travel managers and travellers alike.
Mandated Travel Risk Assessments could offer a hand in identifying the emerging threats employees may face during a trip. A well-executed and communicated Travel Risk Assessment ensures travellers know what to do in case of critical situations, are aware of potential threats and can implement mitigating actions.
An organisation's responsibility to exercise duty of care to their employees should underpin every travel policy and programme. Employers have legal and ethical obligations to ensure that when their people are on the move, they're safe and there's a plan in place when risks emerge.
Travel Risk Management is fundamental to business continuity and organisational resilience because it shows duty of care is more than just a tick-box exercise, it's taken seriously. Having a toolkit that reliably supports Travel Managers is really important here:
Traveller location - understanding where your team are should a trigger event occur.
Reliable information sources and comms to keep travellers in the loop before and while travelling.
Regular technology improvements to counter new and existing risks.
24 hour support whenever and wherever travellers are.
Informed, effective policy
Risk exists whenever employees are on the move, so employers need to know where their people are and to be able to support them when there's a problem. It’s not necessary to stop people travelling, but instead, to highlight a risk or to give them solid advice that will help mitigate the risks. Taking this consultative approach empowers travellers and gives both parties more responsibility.
Increased demand for more in-depth information around travel risk means that information must be validated. Some travellers will look to TripAdvisor or social media for that validation, but it is our role as a TMC to guarantee authenticity.
Acting fast is essential when bookers need support like this. Instead of a traveller having to visit a hotel’s website and then contact us to verify any potential risks at their destination, we’ve developed our Covid Hub to provide travellers with useful information, links and information to help them travel and meet safely. Our booking technology, Agiito Connect, also shows the latest hotel and venue Covid policy information and makes it easy to filter out the suppliers that have put steps in place. These are examples of how it's not just about putting measures in place but making them relevant, accessible and visible to travellers in response to legitimate and present risks. If measures are deployed at the wrong time, in the wrong way or not communicated effectively, this isn't effective in helping to manage risk.
One of the biggest lessons to take from the past one and half years is that businesses must be prepared for travel restrictions to be inconsistent and variable for the foreseeable future.
We play a critical role in planning business travel by region, ensuring trip approval protocols are sufficiently agile and flexible, whilst reviewing airline, hotel and ground transport health and safety policies and ensuring our suppliers have clear safety and hygiene practices in place. Timing is crucial and we take steps at the right time to offer effective responses.