Risk management – make your travellers even safer

Shocking terrorist incidents and disasters during 2015 have proved yet again that companies need a robust risk management strategy for their travellers. If you don’t yet have a good risk programme, how can you launch one? If you do, what are the latest developments in security practices to help you make that programme even better?
Written on 01.11.2015, 00:00
Risk management – make your travellers even safer

The Germanwings disaster and Paris shootings earlier this year provided fresh reminders that travel risk management is essential for corporations – and not only for trips traditionally considered a high risk.

A survey of 510 travel managers by BCD Travel in November 2014 found that 88 per cent rated traveller safety and security as a high priority for their travel programme. That figure was even higher than the 83 per cent who labelled savings and cost control a high priority. Yet even if your company appreciates the need to manage travel risk, are you confident the programme you have in place is effective? The BCD travel manager survey showed, for example, that only half of companies are able to track their travellers and only around two-thirds collect family emergency contact details or provide destination information and threat assessments.

Another challenge is that even if companies are taking some measures to manage risk, they may not be co-ordinating those actions in a joined-up process. “Nearly all businesses today take some steps to improve traveller safety and security,” says TravelpoolEurope managing director Søren Schødt, “but there remain a large number without a coherent strategy. Another problem we see is that once companies set up a programme, they don’t review it. There have been many innovations in risk technology and practice over the past few years, so it is well worth taking a fresh look.”

When you review your travel risk programme, here are some key issues to consider.

Work more closely with other departments
Are you co-ordinating travel risk management effectively between the relevant departments in your organisation, such as travel, security and human resources? Good co-operation is a major issue, especially to cover risks that don’t immediately spring to mind, such as travellers’ data security (see our previous article on this subject) as well as their personal security. Ninety per cent of the BCD survey respondents said there is no clearly identified ownership of travel risk within their company, making it the single largest challenge to their risk management programmes. A multi-disciplinary taskforce ensures all aspects of traveller security are not only included but joined up to each other in a coherent process.

Prevent maverick buying
There has been a lot of debate over the past few years about whether travellers can be made happier by letting them book through consumer websites and other channels instead of the authorised travel management company or booking tool. But companies which allow maverick booking face major challenges to track those travellers when emergencies arise. “We believe security requirements defeat all other considerations,” says Schødt. “Travellers should be told that booking via the official channels is mandatory and it is for their own safety. We see no benefit in allowing anything else, especially as our research consistently reveals business travellers save more by booking through our TMC than via consumer websites.” [link to autumn 2014 TMC article].

Make sure you have pre-trip screening
If your employees are visiting medium- or high-risk destinations, your company needs to know their trip plans before they leave. That is why many businesses now instruct their TMCs to forward every reservation to a security specialist. The security company assigns a threat level to each proposed trip. If the threat level is anything other than the lowest tier, companies can respond by giving the traveller a security briefing and perhaps making special arrangements, such as assigning a dedicated driver at the destination. In extreme cases, the security provider may advise it is too dangerous to travel.

Plan the whole trip
For riskier destinations, instruct travellers to arrange all aspects of the trip in advance, such as visits to clients or a restaurant. Let travellers know you will check their expense reports afterwards to ensure they stuck to the planned itinerary.

Update your traveller tracking
The BCD survey revealed that 53 per cent of companies track travellers through their passenger name records but only 5 per cent travel track travellers through their mobile devices. Using PNRs enables you to know which city your traveller is supposed to be in; using GPS and other mobile technologies allows you to know exactly where your travellers are in the city. One of the main barriers to mobile tracking has been cultural – resistance to Big Brother-type surveillance. But attitudes are changing: mobile device owners usually permit their location to be tracked anyway to enable many of their apps, so one more pair of electronic eyes watching them won’t make much difference. Companies are also finding ways to track less intrusively, such as only positioning the phone location once per day, or if the travellers voluntarily switches on the tracking.

Find other ways to improve your tracking data
PNR information is normally based on reservations made through a global distribution system. However, TMCs are increasingly handling non-GDS bookings as well and finding ways to integrate the reservation data into their tracking systems..

Track non-travellers
Another major breakthrough has been made by Concur with its Risk Messaging tool, which now links to clients’ HR systems as well as to booking records. In an emergency, companies can track and control employees who live and work in the affected location as well as those who are visiting it.

Update your communications
Mobile is making it easier to hold automated but personalised two-way conversations with employees both before and during their trip. Facebook, Twitter and your company’s own social network might all play their part, as could simple SMS text messaging. Send travellers a mobile message asking them to confirm they are okay and whether they require assistance.

Make getting help easy
Traveller assistance is improving too. Some TMCs are moving away from having one number to call during the day and a different one for out-of-hours services. Another innovation is “panic buttons” – a button the traveller can press on their mobile phone for immediate assistance.

Remember the basics
Mobile is the travel risk manager’s friend, but only when it works! In emergencies, mobile networks are often cut off, so sometimes old-fashioned technology is a better bet. Make sure, for example, that itineraries always include the landline telephone numbers of hotels where the traveller is staying.

Post-trip reporting
There is not much evidence of it happening yet, but experts are beginning to talk about improving post-trip data to understand better the impact of emergencies on a travel programme. How much are disruptions costing, for example, once all re-bookings and other emergency expenses are taken into consideration? Or are supplier deals disrupted by emergency changes because volume or market-share targets are missed as a result?

The TravelPool Europe perspective – take another look at travel risk management
There have been a lot of improvements going on in travel risk management over the past couple of years. None of these innovations is, on its own, a world-changer, which is why you might not have noticed them. But taken together, they mean risk management is getting smarter all the time. It is well worth reviewing your risk technology and processes to see if you can use some of these enhancements to make your travellers even safer.