Business travellers face mounting risks in turbulent times

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3 min read

Why your business needs a “what if” policy more than ever

JOHANNESBURG – “The world is facing a set of risks that feel both wholly new and eerily familiar.” That sobering line from the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report sums up the turbulence hitting the globe – geopolitical conflicts, climate calamities, social upheaval and economic shocks.

And it’s proving an especially tricky challenge for companies whose employees are constantly crisscrossing the planet. These corporate travellers are facing an extraordinarily complex mix of risks that could put a serious crimp in their travels.

Recent events have highlighted just how precarious corporate travel can be these days. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent shockwaves through the industry, with rerouted flights, economic upheaval and nuclear fears compounding the dangers. Upcoming US elections could reshuffle foreign policies. And hotspots like the Suez Canal and Middle East demonstrate how logistical snags in one area can massively disrupt travel plans worldwide.

This volatility poses massive headaches for businesses legally required to protect their globetrotting personnel under Duty of Care rules.

The old playbook relying on rigid, reactive policies is ill-equipped for today’s volatility. Instead, a holistic strategy centred on preparedness, flexibility and employee empowerment is sorely needed, says Bonnie Smith, GM of FCM.

So how can businesses adapt? By shifting to a proactive, flexible and traveller-focused Duty of Care approach.

“Rather than just reacting to emergencies, we need to anticipate risks and empower employees with training, real-time guidance and the freedom to make safety-conscious decisions,” explains Smith. “Giving travellers a voice in the policies that affect their wellbeing is paramount.”

At its core, this modernisation means scrapping the old top-down, autocratic enforcement of blanket protocols. Smith says, these are some of the forward-thinking measures being implemented by clients working with travel management companies (TMCs).

  • Extensive pre-trip education tailored to each itinerary’s risk factors
  • Letting travellers adjust plans like rebooking flights/hotels without burdensome approval processes
  • Offering mental health support for the stresses of higher-risk travel

“For travel managers, it’s time to frankly re-evaluate policies in candid discussions with teams and partners.  Prioritising traveller readiness, safety resources and flexibility is key to safeguarding employees,” says Smith.

Smith advises the following steps to take your duty of care into the realities of 2024:

Step 1: Listen to your travellers

Instead of guessing the risks, get the full download from your frequent flyers. Their first-hand experiences will reveal unique challenges South African business travellers face, like dealing with crime hotspots. A good TMC can facilitate these insider conversations.

Step 2: Get travel data sorted

You can’t communicate effectively during an emergency if employee info is out-of-date. Make sure you know exactly where your travelling teams are and how to reach them. A TMC system centralises this data.

Step 3: Game plan for hairy situations

What if civil unrest erupts mid-trip? Work with your TMC to develop response playbooks for the dicey scenarios your business travellers could potentially encounter based on their itineraries.

Step 4: Lean on your tech

When the proverbial hits the fan, you need powerful duty of care tech in your corner. From real-time tracking apps to mobile destination intelligence to emergency communications – TMCs provide the digital ammunition to locate and communicate with impacted travellers anywhere.

Step 5: Prep your people

They can’t be prepared if they’re not properly looped in. Educate employees on your duty of care programme through training, pre-trip briefings, and resources that let them make smart safety decisions on the road like rebooking flights if things get unstable.

“While the world remains unpredictable, businesses can take decisive action to empower and protect their globetrotting teams. By embracing flexibility, prioritising traveller input, and leveraging the expertise of a TMC, organisations can confidently navigate the challenges of modern business travel,” concludes Smith.