Tools for Safe Business Travel in 2022 and Beyond

Gemma Bowkis
Read time: 5 minutes
"In 2022, organizations must know perennial security concerns such as crime, civil unrest, terrorism, or other geopolitical issues have not gone away due to the pandemic. In many cases, the risks from these concerns have actually grown.”
- Mike Sharp, the Group Director of Security Services at International SOS.

With varying international COVID-19 travel policies and rapidly shifting political climates — business travel today poses new, uncharted risks and challenges. In 2022, we have fear in Eastern Europe because of Russian aggression. There are concerns about Chinese aggression in East Asia. There’s a Monkeypox outbreak that could be the next pandemic. We still have COVID-19 outbreaks from a never-ending stream of new variants. We have to be concerned about a global economic downturn. Inflation is rampant across the globe. Civil unrest usually follows economic disasters, especially within developing nations.With global travel restrictions lifting and business travel numbers returning to normal, EHS professionals have a lot to contend with to keep their traveling workers safe and secure. Let’s take a closer look at some of those risks…

6 Common Risks Associated With Business Travel

There are always risks involved in travel. At present time, even travel within the UnitedStates carries more risk than in previous years. In 2021, the FAA reported a 494%increase over the average years’ investigation of unruly airline passengers. And the risk of domestic travel pales in comparison to that of international travel. You don’t have to travel far outside the United States to find high-risk destinations. For example, Tamaulipas state, just across the Rio Grande from the Texas cities of Loredo and Brownsville, is on the State Department’s do not travel list. This is the highest level of warning the State Department gives and is the same warning given for Afghanistan, Russia, and North Korea. When employees are traveling internationally, it’s extremely important to be vigilant about risks associated with their destinations and the countries they travel through.

Political Unrest

Political unrest can range from peaceful demonstrations to all-out war. Business travel to and within areas that are politically unstable needs careful planning, with employees having access to accurate, regionally specific, information to mitigate any incidents or threats.

Terrorism Threats

Acts of terrorism didn’t simply disappear during the pandemic. Terror attacks, kidnappings and conflicts all continued in a number of developing countries including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Mali and Nigeria; they simply weren’t as newsworthy as COVID-19. Without knowledge of the travel destinations' terrorism threat levels, travelers could find themselves in an extremely vulnerable position.

Local Laws and Customs

Other countries have laws that are radically different from American laws. For example, chewing gum is illegal in Singapore while eating, drinking, or smoking in a cab is illegal in Abu Dhabi. The penalties for legal violations can be far harsher than in the UnitedStates. In addition to this, many countries have local customs that differ from what the traveler may be used to, yet, not following their rules of etiquette can offend the locals, leading to an increased chance of a confrontation.

Health

According to a study carried out by Ipsos Global Advisor, 71% of senior executive travelers reported they had experienced medical concerns abroad. Many countries don’t have the level of sanitation regulation we enjoy in the United States. Drinking the local water can cause illnesses. Other concerns include the level of protection from COVID-19, local epidemics, and the quality of local healthcare services.

Transportation

Only 23% of people consider road conditions before they travel abroad despite road accidents being one of the most common dangers to travelers and automobiles being involved in the highest incidence of workplace fatalities in the US and abroad. Driving or even being a passenger or pedestrian in an unfamiliar place can increase the risk of an accident, and countries with loose pre-screening or background laws for drivers and additional considerations such as poor roads can exacerbate these risks even more.

Special Security Risks for Some Demographic Groups

While safety is important for anyone on the road, certain demographic groups face unique travel risks and concerns that require special attention. According to a 2018 report released by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), 83% of women have had concerns about their safety while on a business trip in the previous year and 80% of female business travelers say these safety concerns have impacted their productivity on business trips. In spite of this, only 18% of travel policies specifically address female safety. Other demographic groups to make special considerations for include LGBTQ+ employees, disabled employees, religious employees, and employees traveling to a country where they would be a racial minority.

How To Minimize Business Travel Risks

Companies have a duty of care obligation to take responsibility for the health, safety, and security of their employees whilst working, no matter where they are in the world.

The level of personal risk a traveler could be exposed to varies according to their personal risk profile, their experience traveling abroad, the activities they will be carrying out, and the places they will be going to. The best way to support employees who travel for business purposes, and enable a safe, secure and productive trip, is to understand the risks at destinations, take appropriate precautions, and effectively communicate both those risks and the steps to take to mitigate them. 

Here are some key processes that companies can implement now to ensure that employees are safe and well equipped for their mission on the road…

Pre-Travel Risk Assessment

When you are armed with the knowledge of potential health, safety and security threats and challenges that may lie ahead for business travelers, you have the ability to prepare robust plans to mitigate those risks.

Conducting a thorough pre-travel risk assessment of the intended destination prior to traveling, even if the business traveler has visited the location previously, is a vital step that employers should take to ensure the well-being of their traveling workforce.

Travel safety assessments should include:

  • Assessing the political and economic climate of the travelers' destination, including the terror threat level
  • Local crime rates, paying close attention to the area surrounding booked accommodation and noting any specific areas with particularly high rates of crime
  • The availability and access to quality healthcare and medical support if required
  • The current rate of COVID-19 infections and its spread and how to access testing facilities
  • Any travel restrictions or limitations, public health measures, lockdown laws or quarantine rules, and the implications if they change
  • Transportation options within the travel destination and any risks associated with each form of transport
  • Researching local culture and customs
  • Additional specific risk assessments for certain demographic groups

Ensure Effective Communication

Life teaches us that almost all problems, both personal and professional, when boiled down are due to poor communication. With travel safety and security, improving communication and the ability to provide accurate, relevant information to affected travelers in a timely manner, should generate ongoing tangible improvements. Once thorough pre-travel assessments are carried out and potential risks have been identified, it is paramount that this information is communicated to the traveling employee in a way that is easy to digest and available to refer back to at any time. 

Information to consider sharing could include:

  • Any potential risks and threats to safety and security
  • ​​Local points of interest, including pharmacies, restaurants/cafes, hospitals, national embassy location, testing facilities
  • A guide to customs and cultures, including public health and safety rules that are in place
  • Tips for getting around safely, including trusted taxi/chauffeur services and public transport options
  • Key contacts, numbers and resources available for tips, assistance, advice and emergencies
  • An up-to-date itinerary for the entirety of their trip

Giving employees access to a well-defined plan at the beginning, during travel and at the close of a trip can make a world of difference when followed, but it is also crucial to maintain an efficient, open communication channel for the duration of a business trip. Situations can change rapidly and new threats can arise whilst an employee is traveling so it is important to communicate any updates immediately and stay ahead of the risk.

Provide Robust Trainings

Training is critical and not just one-time sessions, but frequent ‘mini’ learning sessions and resources that are available to refer back to at any time, can make a huge difference to help reinforce new protocols and travel practices.

While you cannot foresee incidents and accidents, you can train your staff to identify what is and isn't an unacceptable risk to take while on a business trip. Often, it is far easier to avoid potentially dangerous situations than respond to them, especially when you are in an unfamiliar location. This is why training should focus primarily on prevention first, but then also, on educating employees on how to respond when at risk on a business trip.

Remember, when faced with an unexpected threat, there’s often not enough time to think, so it is crucial to provide engaging and impactful training that will be absorbed by employees—even if it’s something as simple as how to look out for pickpockets.

Travelers can easily get in trouble because they’re not familiar with the culture, rules, or laws of the country they’re visiting. Make sure you provide robust training on these risks and they’ll have a better chance of avoiding them and responding to those unavoidable risks with competency. Receiving high-quality education and training can save the life of a traveler in a critical situation.

A Mobile Solution for the Mobile Employee

What’s the one thing every person carries with them these days? Keys may not be necessary if a car is not used. The wallet may not be necessary when there’s a device people carry everywhere that can do everything a wallet can. It can even carry their legal identification. It’s their smartphone—which is always in a person’s pocket and almost always the first thing they reach for in a crisis. By leveraging mobile technology to implement travel safety plans, you can gain a legitimate advantage.

Information Sharing

As we’ve already mentioned, communication is key. Traveling employees should have access to the information they need—when they need it, no matter where they are, regardless of internet connection, or if they’re comfortable using technology. Mobile can break down huge amounts of information and segment it, meaning that you can share local/country/city/state or regionally specific, nuanced information with the right employees. No fluff or irrelevant information for them to wade through should equal happier, safer and more efficient employees.

Push Notifications

As we’ve already mentioned, communication is key. Traveling employees should have access to the information they need—when they need it, no matter where they are, regardless of internet connection, or if they’re comfortable using technology. Mobile can break down huge amounts of information and segment it, meaning that you can share local/country/city/state or regionally specific, nuanced information with the right employees. No fluff or irrelevant information for them to wade through should equal happier, safer and more efficient employees.

Multiple Language Support

OSHA’s Training Standards Policy states that: “an employer must instruct its employees using both a language and vocabulary that the employees can understand. For example, if an employee does not speak or comprehend English, instruction must be provided in a language the employee can understand”. An app that can easily contain content in multiple languages helps companies stay compliant and ensure inclusivity across the workforce.

Ease of Use

With an intuitive, easy-to-navigate mobile app, employees don’t have the need to carry around masses of paperwork, pamphlets and travel guides — they can simply take out their phone and in 2-3 taps, get straight to the information they need. Some mobile platforms also give you the ability to integrate with existing systems, allowing you to unify tools that enhance corporate travel safety.

Interactive Training

Mobile can support interactive training and reinforce travel policy and procedure efforts with always accessible content and engaging features such as live polls, videos, flash quizzes and more. Educating yourself and others on how to travel safely will engender competency and with mobile, this high-quality training content can be available to retrieve and review at any time.

The Bottom Line

The reality is there are risks everywhere in the world. And while a business trip might go without a hitch most of the time, there’s always a chance that something could go wrong. So, if your employees travel for business of any kind, it’s vital for your company to plan and prepare adequately, and communicate this effectively to your employees to ensure their safety and allow for an enjoyable and productive business trip. A powerful mobile platform, like ReadyKey, can support all of the features listed above, and many more, giving EHS leaders the ability to elevate their company travel safety plans and make sure that there are no excuses for not knowing the things that could save lives.