Global travel security Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

Each time an employee takes a businesstrip, something can go awry and harmthe traveler, the employer or both. It could be a major disaster, like a tsunami, or aminor mishap, like a laptop theft. Any problem, however, can result in missed meetingsand lost work hours, putting the company atrisk and often requiring significant time andmoney to resolve the issue.

Although the Corporate Manslaughter Act— which puts the onus on companies to doall they can to protect their travelers — wasinstituted in England in 2007, it’s affected thetotality of risk management, says John L.Sturm, executive director of sales and marketing at Professional Travel.

“Litigation has been brought against U.S.corporations for not preparing their travelersand not informing them of what they shouldand shouldn’t do,” says Sturm.

Smart Business interviewed Sturm on thetrials and tribulations of global travel.

What perils does global travel present?

There have been major disasters nearlyeach year since 2001 — 2002 brought us theBali bombings; 2003 was the SARS outbreak;and in 2005 the London tube bombings. Andthat’s just the headlines. Often these perilshappen behind the scenes. Things like gettingsick in a country where you don’t speak thelanguage, getting caught in an airline strike orbeing unaware of touchy cultural issues aremore often the source of traveler distressthan ‘headline’ disasters.

The perception that the world is more dangerous today than in years past is actuallyreality. The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has increased by more than 50 percent in the last decade. Additionally, we havenew diseases, like SARS and Avian Flu, toworry about, the re-emergence of diseaseslike drug-resistant tuberculosis and thosethat result from bioterrorism, like anthrax.

How can companies monitor problem areas?

Certainly there are ‘hot spots’ around theworld, but incidents can happen even inplaces normally considered ‘safe.’ Houstonand New Orleans are considered pretty safedestinations unless a Category 5 hurricane isbearing down on them.

Companies do need to monitor areas thatare inherently risky due to their overall security assessment ratings as well as those thatcan become risky because of some currentincident. It’s almost impossible for a travel orsecurity manager to be aware of everythingthat can affect their travelers. However, thereare several companies that, for a reasonablecost, can provide analysis on countries andmonitor current events for elements that canaffect travelers.

How can you prepare employees beforehandand track them once they’ve departed?

Companies can be proactive in severalways. First, they can give employees accessto a comprehensive database that allowsthem to pull information about their destinations. It should include information aboutsecurity, transportation, health, entry/exitrequirements, culture, communications/technology, legal issues, environmental issuesand financial information.

Often, service providers can give this information to the traveler as soon as the trip isbooked. Studies have shown that when travelers are given this information, they’re morelikely to read and act upon it than if they have to go to the Web and pull it themselves.

In addition to monitoring, a company alsoneeds to mitigate the threats that travel to aparticular area might present. An examplewould be a country where the kidnappingthreat is high. Proactive companies takesteps to mitigate these risks so there’s anacceptable level of risk for their employees.

Risk mitigation, traveler tracking and monitoring world situations is imperative. It’simportant to know if something is affectingyour travelers and equally as important to beable to quickly locate and communicate withthem. Both travel management companiesand safety and security vendors have products and services to assist.

What do you recommend to travelers regarding how to prevent a worst-case scenario andwhat actions to take should it occur?

Being prepared is one of the most important things a traveler can do. This applies toworst-case scenarios, like terrorist incidentsor kidnapping, as well as everyday annoyances like being delayed by a protest strike.The best way to deal with a situation is to prevent it, and this is done through getting theright information before, during or even afterthe trip (due to incubation periods, somemedical incidents may not be known untilafter a trip is completed).

Most importantly, your travel managementcompany should provide this information inadvance. Travelers need to know what inherent risks their destinations present. Travelersmust know whom their company wantsthem to notify in case something happens —this is equally as important when it concernsthe death of a colleague or getting the flu.

What risks do companies expose themselvesto by not being attuned to this issue?

Companies who don’t attend to this ‘duty ofcare’ can expose themselves to everythingfrom unhappy, unprepared employees tolarge lawsuits and everything in between.Litigation may be the most expensive monetary risk, but damage to corporate image orbrand can be equally devastating.

JOHN L. STURM is the executive director of sales and marketing at Professional Travel. Reach him at (440) 734-8800 x4089