Guest Blog from Lewis Sage-Passant of howsafeismytrip.com
International travel is an integral part of doing business in the modern world, however increasing global volatility has introduced new security and liability risks to businesses who send staff overseas. Without appropriate risk and security management, companies can find themselves extremely vulnerable to both dangers to staff, and even litigation in cases where the traveller was not provided with the correct level of support.
While many of the largest companies have internal corporate security teams to perform destination risk assessments, monitor geopolitical developments and properly brief travellers, this comes at a cost that can be prohibitively high for small and medium enterprises, despite all business being equally as vulnerable. Often, untrained line managers or HR staff are asked to sign off on overseas travel, and by doing so are accepting liability in an area where training and resources are lacking. Consulting with an external specialist can be a good investment for a company’s long-term overseas business strategy, and may even form part of the decision-making process regarding building new operations in a new territory. The local security environment could impact sourcing decisions, operational stability and finding appropriate and sustainable routes-to-market. Often, specialist security review can in fact save companies from investing in a territory facing instability or uncertainty.
It is critical that companies fulfil their duty of care obligations for travel to all destinations, and not just the obviously risky ones. For businesses looking to cost effectively manage travel security for their employees I would suggest the following steps:
Destination risk assessment
The destination must be reviewed in-depth by a qualified individual to ensure the safety of staff. This review must include crime, conflict, terrorism, political, and kidnap risks, and how they relate to your travellers. Hotel and transport safety must be thoroughly vetted from a security, fire risk, and medical point of view. It should be noted that while many international hotel chains impose stiff safety regulations on their franchises, these cannot always be relied upon and must be independently reviewed.
Local transportation arrangements should also be considered. Where possible, a reputable car service should be favoured over local taxi and public transportation options. Local healthcare should also be reviewed, and the use of a medical evacuation service should be considered for countries with poor healthcare availability.
Several resources exist to support businesses with destination risk reviews, ranging from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s generic travel security guide, through to the free destination-specific security guides found here – https://howsafeismytrip.com/travel-safety-guide/. However all risk assessments must keep the unique nature of each trip in mind and not be overly-reliant on generic advice. Just because a destination is listed as being lower risk does not make it exempt from your duty of care responsibilities.
Traveller risk profile
The travellers themselves should be considered, as specific complications can arise in connection with the traveller’s nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender in certain regions. Does the traveller speak the local language? Do they have any special medical considerations? Do they have hostile environment training or military experience? Prior to departure, the traveller should be briefed on the destination risks and how best to navigate them. For higher risk destinations, specialist training should be considered.
Crisis management planning
One of the most critical components of travel safety is crisis planning. Prior to the trip, managers must have a clear crisis management plan. This should include multiple points of contact within the business who can be called 24/7 in the event of an emergency, who are briefed on the trip, and what steps should be taken in a crisis.
Once the traveller has departed for the destination, it is critical that the designated security manager continues to monitor for developments that may impact the safety of their traveller. Political, terrorism and armed conflict risks can emerge rapidly, and often with little warning. While the traveller in-country may have good access to local information, they may be focused on the commercial aspect of their trip and paying little attention to local media. Global and local news media can be useful, but can often be late to deliver critical updates. Social media and subscription intelligence sources play an important role in the monitoring aspect, but this can be difficult and expensive for smaller businesses to implement on a 24/7 basis.
Flexibility is key with travel security monitoring, and businesses must be willing to change plans with little notice in the event of a deterioration of the security environment. Meeting venues may want to be moved to the traveller’s hotel, transportation security arrangements may want to be “beefed up”, and in extreme circumstances management must also be willing to consider extracting the traveller from the country altogether.
Travel security management is a constantly evolving programme, and lessons learned from previous travellers should be absorbed where possible. A common mistake is to assume familiarity with a destination based on past experiences, which neglects the changing nature of security environments. On their return, travellers should be given the opportunity to share any problems encountered, and any suggestions for improvement should be incorporated into future travel security management where possible.
While many businesses will be wary of taking a robust approach to travel security management, and managers may feel that such a programme may become an obstacle to doing business overseas, ignoring travel security risks can be deadly. Staff safety, morale, and retention can be drastically impacted by poor travel management, and litigation can cripple companies found to be placing staff in harm’s way without fulfilling their duty of care obligations. Where possible, businesses are encouraged to consult with an expert. This process should also be applied to all destinations, and not just those that appear obviously risky.
Lewis Sage-Passant is a former British Army intelligence officer and ex-corporate security intelligence and crisis manager with Goldman Sachs. Lewis now runs HowSafeIsMyTrip.com, a travel security consultancy specialising in vacation, academic and SME business travellers.