How to prepare your employees to deal with any situation while traveling overseas Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2010

Keeping your employees safe and productive while they’re traveling requires a series of sound decisions, starting well before the trip even begins.

Having a plan in place to deal with the unexpected and making employees aware of it takes some of the worry out of travel and can be a lifesaver should travel be interrupted, as it was for thousands in Europe recently as a result of a volcanic eruption in Iceland.

“With a plan, employees know what to do, who to call and how to handle a particular situation,” says Kathleen France, director of international reservations and services at Professional Travel Inc. “And if they’re not sure how to handle it, they at least know where they can go to get answers.”

Smart Business spoke with France about how partnering with a professional travel agency and developing a plan can help prepare your employees to deal with any situation they may encounter while traveling.

Is there an increased focus on being prepared for disruptions to travel?

After 9/11, when employers were frantic to account for all of their employees, everyone started to think about these things and be more proactive about them, but then the concerns moved to the back burner. But with the Iceland volcano causing the largest transportation disruption since World War II, the focus is back on travel disruption. Companies haven’t been able to get a hold of employees, some employees were traveling with very low credit card limits, they were being delayed day after day, and many employers that had no plans in place were scrambling to try to make adjustments.

But those with a plan in place had a much easier time, as they had a partner who could facilitate communication, get credit card limits raised, help employers wire money or direct stranded travelers to take the appropriate actions to stay safe and productive until they were able to return home.

How can working with an agency help a company develop a plan to protect its traveling employees?

An agency can help you begin to think about things you may not have considered. Do you have enough insurance? Do you have medical insurance that covers you no matter where you are? Are you self-insured for car rental? Does your credit card have enough credit available should you be stranded somewhere for an extended time? Does your cell phone work in another country? Does your computer? These are all things that a lot of people just don’t think about.

An agency can also help employers develop a strict travel policy that mandates that all bookings — cars, hotel and air — are made through a central location. Doing so ensures that all travel information relating to all your employees is in one place, providing a central clearinghouse for both employers and employees in case of the unexpected.

How can having a plan in place benefit you should your employees run into unforeseen circumstances overseas?

Companies with a plan in place will clearly be in a better position to support their travelers through any crisis situation. Having a plan makes travelers feel more secure in that, should something happen, they know they’ve got support and they know where to turn for it. For travelers, knowing they are not alone can go a long way toward relieving the stress in a crisis, and with 24-7 service available, employees have access to information when they need it.

Having a plan also allows employers to respond more quickly, because they are acting according to the plan, not reacting to the situation.

Companies that do not have policies may find themselves at a loss regarding whether a traveler was on a particular flight or in a certain location when a crisis occurs. They may also be left scrambling if an employee is injured and doesn’t know where to turn, or if the employee is stranded without necessary medication. By working with an agency, a company gets a partner that has seen it all and can provide solutions and options that an employer might not be aware of.

How can companies communicate travel information to employees?

Consider having a travel portal, which can keep travelers updated on important information while an event is happening. A portal can house not only alerts and emergency procedures but also insurance information on what to do if the employee becomes sick or injured in a foreign country and what to do if a passport or credit cards are lost or stolen. Having these step-by-step procedures at their fingertips can be critical because, during a crisis, travelers need things to be simple and easy to follow.

By setting up a portal, your employees will come to rely on one location for important travel information, resulting in gains in improvements to policy compliance and cost savings.

You can also make the portal interactive, allowing employees to offer input on where they see gaps in your corporate travel program, creating the opportunity for you to improve it.

By providing employees with accurate information and a place to turn, you are also providing them with a sense of being safe and protected, knowing that someone is there to help them. And reaching out to travelers, either by an agency or by the employer, puts a personal touch on employees’ travels and lets them know you’re looking out for them and doing everything you can to keep them safe while they’re away from home.

Kathleen France is director of international reservations and services at Professional Travel Inc. Reach her at (440) 734-8800 x4015 or kathleenf@protrav.com.