International travel Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

International travel brings a bevy of challenges the domestic traveler never faces. When a corporation sends its employees out of the U. S., it is liable for their safety and must be able to locate them quickly, especially in areas of headline-making unrest. And, before the trip, travelers need to familiarize themselves with security resources and foreign cultures and make arrangements for currency, passports and visas.

A managed travel process will monitor and address these issues as needed so you don’t have to, providing you with an up-to-date version of what makes safe travel, says Kathleen France, director of international reservations and services at Professional Travel.

Smart Business spoke to France about the challenges associated with international travel and ideas to help mitigate your risk.

How should businesses monitor hot spots around the globe?

The best method is to partner with a travel management company that provides daily updates on travel, security, health and weather alerts directly to your travelers and human resource staff. That way, you’ll know if your travelers are going to be affected by a tsunami in Japan, terror threats in London, a strike by Lufthansa ticket agents, or exposure to avian flu overseas.

How do you stay abreast of security issues?

With more than 190 countries in the world and varying degrees of unrest and potential disasters, no one source can fully prepare your travelers for all potential hot spots. As part of risk assessment, your travel management company has a responsibility to subscribe to the various monitoring services that provide instant updates 24/7/365 — and disseminate the information to you. These resources focus on the traveler, risks they may face, impacts, delays, strikes and health concerns; many of which won’t appear on your evening news or Internet search, but are invaluable to your travelers.

What difficulties do foreign currencies pose?

People take foreign currency for granted; they assume you can walk into an airport and get it anytime and at the lowest price. Unfortunately, if there is an airport location, they typically charge a significant premium. It’s always recommended that travelers plan ahead and carry at least $100 U.S. This way, if a flight is delayed or canceled, and the airport machines don’t work, the traveler can still reach his or her destination. Don’t exchange currency on the street; be cautious and use reputable sources.

How can a travel management company help with documentation and visas?

You have a responsibility through internal processes or through your travel management firm to ensure your travelers are able to enter and exit their international destinations. Do your employees have valid U.S. passports? Do they have at least six months remaining and pages that are still blank? Some countries require itineraries; others need letters of invitation, and this often changes daily. You used to not need a letter of invitation for Brazil; now you do because the relationship has changed between the two governments. Your travel management company plays a pivotal role in helping you through the red tape.

What about paper tickets?

Only domestically has everything gone electronic, and from a human resource point of view, gone is the day of stapling passenger receipts to expense reports. However, many foreign carriers haven’t ramped up to fully utilize electronic tickets. Some of these carriers have partnered with major airlines, allowing your travel management company to validate and issue tickets on other carriers for electronic ticketing. So if Continental allows them to validate China Eastern, and China Eastern in a given city doesn’t allow an electronic ticket, your travel management company will validate a ticket and sell it as a Continental coach seat with an electronic ticket. The fare may be slightly higher, but changes can be made; otherwise, the traveler would have to go to the China Eastern ticket counter in some small city in China to do this. Then, the traveler would have to deal with ticket agents who likely speak little to no English, and he or she will have to pay whatever amount they say. They’re looking at a ticket issued in U.S. dollars, not their currency, and sometimes their calculations are correct and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’ll stamp it and just say ‘go,’ but the traveler may have to buy a new ticket home. Electronic tickets have saved international clients hundreds of hours of standing in line, not to mention having to bring back paper coupons they don’t know the value of.

What other risks does international travel pose?

Namely, the risk of not knowing where your employees are. Without a managed travel program, it’s nearly impossible to track this. When an international situation arises, your travel management company can proactively e-mail you and say it has no one at a certain hotel, for example, that was booked through it. Corporations need to tighten up all those things, to be able to look to one source to find out if employees are in harm’s way.

KATHLEEN FRANCE is the director of international reservations and services at Professional Travel. Reach her at (440) 734-8800 x4105 or kathleenf@protrav.com.