ASATA Column: To travel, or not…

Spread of coronavirus raises questions about ‘proactive’ travel risk management


In corporate travel, we talk a great deal about Duty of Care, and the responsibility that lies with employers and Travel Management Companies (TMCs) to keep their travellers safe.

More often than not, the concept of Duty of Care pertains to travel risk management protocols that roll out when trouble occurs during travel. The focus is on being ‘proactive’ when a traveller finds themselves in trouble when they’re on a business trip.

However, the travel risk management protocol is largely reactive as it’s rolled out when things go awry. It places less focus on mitigating risk by avoiding dangerous situations outright.

As the spread of Coronavirus grips all forms of travel, including corporate travel, the question arises as to whether companies should and indeed can expect their business travellers to continue to travel during these uncertain times.

The argument against travel seems to suggest that the employer could be putting the lives of their employees at risk by forcing them to travel for business and that, in this case, travel is not the employee’s choice.

Whereas, in the leisure space the traveller can decide for themselves whether they wish to continue with their travel plans. A great deal of resources are poured into monitoring ‘dangerous situations’ globally so that when the unexpected occurs, the corporate and their TMC are immediately clear on whether any employees are affected and the travel risk management protocol can be rolled out. But what happens in a case like the spread of Coronavirus where the risk is already known? What proactive training and awareness programmes do you have in your organisation to prepare travellers for known, or even potential risks?

All travellers should be trained and given the resources they need to safeguard themselves when they travel. This is because, at the time, they’ll need to think on their feet. They’ll be the only one in that particular situation to make an informed decision as they wait for your travel risk management protocol to kick in.

This means that the emphasis on travel risk management should be on training staff to reduce the risks and make informed decisions, rather than support mechanisms after the fact as this may take some time to ‘arrive on the scene’ and ‘save the day’. Your TMC can assist employers to ensure that their staff are receiving the correct training to mitigate risk. Among others, corporates should ensure that their staff have a good understanding of any risks that arise from their itinerary and destinations to which they are travelling. They should know how to deal with or prevent any long-term impact resulting from the risk.

Duty of Care goes beyond traveller tracking. Rather, it is incumbent on every employer and TMC to ensure that their travelling personnel and customers are fully aware of how to access support on the ground if this is required. But more so, to be equipped to think on the fly and make good decisions to keep them as safe as possible.

Which brings us back to the Coronavirus.

No doubt many organisations have put in place travel restrictions, or even bans, to ensure that their staff are kept out of harm’s way. For those that have not, it is essential to equip your employees with the knowledge they need to ensure they do not catch the virus. Perhaps that extends to supplying your travellers with masks, alcohol-based hand sanitiser and even supplements to boost their immune system.

Furthermore, employers should be educating their staff on how to stop the spread of the disease through proper washing of hands, not touching their face and steering clear of someone who shows symptoms of a cold or flu.

At this time, lean on your TMC to ascertain what your options are in terms of deferring or cancelling travel. Ask them which destinations have instituted travel bans and which airlines have reduced their frequencies.

Your TMC can help you to manage your corporate travel proactively and reduce potential risks to those travellers who have decided they wish to continue their business travel regardless of the spread of Coronavirus. This includes ensuring you have the right travel insurance in place.

By providing as much information as possible to your end traveller, you not only improve their security and mitigate risk, you’ll also reduce their anxiety and stress associated with travelling.

Finally, you’ll be less reliant on those reactive measures we’re so good at putting in place as part of our travel risk management protocol because fewer travellers will find themselves in harm’s way. That’s really what being proactive is all about.