John Rose, Chief Risk Officer at ALTOUR, talks risk management and offers his suggestions for traveler safety. He also clarifies the differences between Duty of Care obligations in the U.S. and in western Europe.
Q: What is the Duty of Care obligation for U.S. companies that regularly send employees on business travel?
A: US companies know that their travelers need to abide by the laws of the countries where they’re traveling. But they don’t know all the local laws that might trip them up. There is no “Duty of Care” law in the U.S., but in the United Kingdom, failure to properly care for your employees is a violation of criminal law, not just civil. For more details, read up on the UK Manslaughter Act.
Q: What are some unintentionally risky things that travelers do overseas?
A: U.S. companies try to prepare their people for overseas trips, but huge errors are commonly made regarding prescription drugs. Legal medications in the U.S. can be banned in destinations such as Dubai or Japan. Generally, prescription painkillers are forbidden in many countries. But as the employer, you can’t legally ask what prescription meds your employees are taking. Yet if you don’t educate your travelers that their meds are illegal, they can end up in an unfortunate situation. Your duty is to provide education about what circumstances a traveler might face.
Q: How does the company benefit from preparing an employee for business travel?
A: Companies have the responsibility to provide the people they are funding to travel with the information they need to stay safe, and a point of contact if something does go wrong. Our key phrases are: Prepare, Monitor, Respond. By the way, I mean, we monitor the situation, not the person.
I always encourage a little bit of paranoia as the best approach to business travel. That little bit of fear means the traveler will educate themselves. And those types of people rarely have something go wrong during a trip. They end up happy with their journey and come back to the office talking it up. Then their co-worker wants to go out to represent the company. The numbers show that in-person meetings are more lucrative than virtual ones, so it’s worth the effort to have a workforce that’s willing to get out on the road on your company’s behalf.
Q: When a traveler doesn’t feel safe, is that a lapse in Duty of Care?
A: Something as seemingly simple as driving can become a Duty of Care violation. Consider a trip to England, where your employee will be renting a car and expected to drive on the left side of the road. If that person decides, ‘that’s not safe for me,’ that’s a Duty of Care issue.
Today’s companies are becoming sensitive to non-drivers. We’ve seen younger staffers who don’t drive and older travelers who prefer not to drive at night. Rideshare solutions mean that they don’t have to rent cars internationally. And frankly, it’s safer to have someone who knows the area driving you around than you doing both the navigating and the driving yourself. Rental car accidents are a big issue. We always teach our clients how to deal with a call from a traveler who has wrecked their rental car in a location like Dublin.
Q: What are some frequent trip hiccups and how do you solve them?
A: Big problems like a plane crash or terror attack are rare. What you need to be ready for is a traffic accident or mugging when a traveler is outside of the U.S. It’s a simple process when an accident happens in Cleveland. But when it happens in Doha, your company will have to be a liaison for health insurance, hospital services, and potentially an evacuation.
A travel manager would have to coordinate international insurance providers, and maybe you find out that your company only has a portion of the insurance that’s needed. The company must be informed about who is providing the actual medical assistance: you’ll be dealing with the hospital as well as the employee’s family. But because of HIPPA regulations, the company can’t be informed of what type of treatment they’re receiving and if it’s appropriate. Your company can’t even be informed of the exact condition of the employee.
Other common issues include stolen passports and compromised credit cards. Often, a traveler uses a card, and it was skimmed, and now their only corporate credit card is compromised. How will they pay for their hotel room or their next meal? If they’re on a 5-city trip, this can have a disastrous impact on their itinerary not to mention their productivity. We teach travelers to take two credit cards on every trip, but don’t store them together. Otherwise, you’re dealing with how quickly can the company can get another credit card delivered to their location. Or you’re making accommodations to pay for the hotel room using a virtual payment until they can get a replacement.
Q: What steps can women take to ensure their safety while traveling for work?
A: According to a recent GBTA survey, 83% of women travelers had a security issue and felt unsafe while traveling for work. That’s a very significant number that companies need to consider when crafting a Duty of Care plan. Whether it’s dealing with a creepy guy or a severe attack, companies must provide someone for women to call for advice when she’s uncomfortable.
The GBTA survey went further into female security issues to find that 86% of women altered their plans based on safety and security concerns. Take arrival times, for example. For a female traveler, arriving after 8 pm in a city that she doesn’t know could be risky. It may cost the company more to have her fly earlier in the day, but women will make their itinerary decisions with safety as their primary consideration, not economics. Companies could also negotiate their air contracts, so that flying at premium times aren’t as expensive.
Q: What are some consequences that some companies have faced by not providing sufficient Duty of Care coverage and preparation?
A: In the U.S., most companies who are likely to lose a civil case relating to Duty of Care will settle out of court. In Europe, there have been awards in the $50-million range for some high-profile cases. The critical distinction is that in Europe, there are criminal penalties in addition to civil. For example, an officer of a company with a negligent Duty of Care plan could go to jail.
Q: How do British and European companies approach Duty of Care differently than American companies?
A: In general, many American companies ignore Duty of Care until something happens to a person on staff. Europeans are generally more risk-averse and have a culture of insurance. Their corporate culture tends to include risk management and safety training.
American travel managers could learn from their European counterparts when it comes to onboarding and annual employee training. There are online training modules that cover how to travel internationally in a safe manner and instructions on how to get assistance when things go wrong.
Q: What rules should Travel Managers add to their Policies to mitigate their company’s risk for people traveling for work?
A: When you’re proactive, you can mitigate risk. To begin with, companies need to have Duty of Care and a travel risk management plan in place. Travel Leaders offers the CARE product which provides a solution to help companies keep their business travelers secure around the globe. CARE is built with artificial intelligence, and instantly updates travel managers with 24/7 alerts about emergencies.
As for policy changes, you have to find out where your exposure is. Your organization may have massive exposure to its female travelers. What are you doing to educate women about hotel safety? If you don’t have a policy about Airbnb, it’s time to make a decision. For many travelers, the lack of security and fire safety measures make a shared accommodation situation an uncomfortable choice.
Even taxis can be quite dangerous outside of the U.S. and western Europe. You might need to make provisions for a secure car service in countries where it makes sense to have a professional driver who knows the area. As you build policies, it’s essential to explore your risks simultaneously.
Q: Describe an actual emergency that your client faced and the outcome.
A: Recently, a client assembled a large group in Osaka for a conference. A typhoon was looming, so we put our contingency plan in place. First, we identified everyone who arrived in Japan. Then we started planning to provide emergency accommodation and make arrangements to move all of the conference participants from their original hotels to one near the airport. We reached out to ground providers to alert them to the number of people they will have to move around. We were able to get all of our travelers out of Japan and home safely.