Blinkered by Covid-19: How to mitigate risks for APAC business travel in the Covid-19 era

Todd Handcock, president, Asia Pacific, Collinson, shares how travellers and travel management teams can embrace the new Covid-19 standards to best protect themselves and their businesses once travel resumes

As organisations prepare for a safe return to business travel, ISO 31030 sets an international benchmark for companies to create and review their TRM programmes

Since the beginning of the pandemic, travel on both a business and leisure front has proven challenging due to the diverse and rapidly changing rules, regulations and border closures imposed by governments across the world.

With vaccination programmes gradually beginning to be rolled out in the region, talk of new travel bubbles, and a gradual relaxation of travel restrictions from certain markets – for instance Hong Kong reducing quarantine requirements from 21 days to seven or 14 days for fully vaccinated travellers from certain locations – leisure and business travellers alike are starting to prepare for a return to travel.

As organisations prepare for a safe return to business travel, ISO 31030 is an international benchmark for companies to create and review their travel risks management programmes

In fact, a recent survey of Collinson’s Priority Pass members revealed that 77 per cent of those journeying in Asia Pacific expect to travel more over the next 12 months.

Yet even when travel returns, Covid-19 will have changed the landscape for the foreseeable future – creating a heightened risk agenda. From an increase in fraud and scams to ever-changing travel restrictions and resulting travel complications, Covid-related complications are inevitable.

Businesses must therefore continue to ensure that their Travel Risk Management (TRM) programme is robust and fit for purpose, taking into account both pre-pandemic ‘normal’ travel-related risks, and those which are new and unique to the pandemic era.

This is why the advent of a new international standard, ISO 31030 Travel Risk Management Standard, could not have come at a better time. TRM is firmly on the C-suite agenda, to the extent that travel requests often require board-level approval.

As organisations prepare for a safe return to business travel, ISO 31030 sets an international benchmark for companies to create and review their TRM programmes – helping them to not be blinkered by Covid, and ensuring Duty of Care requirements are being met, at a time when the new risk agenda is more challenging than ever before.

Taking a holistic approach to risk
ISO 31030 reinforces the importance of organisations taking a more holistic ‘before, during and after’ approach to business travel.

Unfortunately, the changes brought about by the pandemic have meant that many of the solutions used in the past may no longer be appropriate.

For example, destinations that were previously deemed to have good quality infrastructure, which traditionally presented a ‘lower risk’ to travel, may now present new considerations because of the additional strain being placed on the market’s medical infrastructure, and the reduction of medical support and resources due to Covid-19.

The solutions:

  • Ahead of a trip, an organisation’s travel manager should provide the employee with a checklist of requirements for the journey, from risk assessment forms to tests and vaccination support. An updated emergency evacuation plan should be in place for each destination on the trip, with proximity to the nearest clinic and airstrip included. Contingency plans are essential in pre-planning, to allow for any unexpected turn of events.
  • During the journey, companies must continue to monitor all of the points mentioned above, to ensure a swift response in the event of unexpected changes. For long-term business secondments, a constant review of the medical care available is also needed, taking into account medications which could be in short supply, or not available in that country, and regular psychological health checks – such as counselling – are also key to reassuring employees in their working environment.
  • Afterwards, organisations should continue to ensure that employees have access to tools that support their physical and mental wellbeing. Detailed post-trip reports from the employee can provide key learnings on elements such as the effectiveness of the assistance programme and feedback regarding transport and accommodation, which could help with future planning.

Focus on the specific requirements of your organisation and its travelling employees
Every organisation and itinerary is different. The needs and details associated with each one therefore have to be considered accordingly, with appropriate planning and permissions in place.

It’s vital to understand what is needed for your employees – and to remember that the pandemic poses a greater threat to certain individuals with pre-existing medical conditions.

The solutions:

  • Due diligence is required for each trip, which should be assessed on its own merits, and must ensure that the right measures have been considered for a safe and seamless journey, based on the needs of each individual employee.
  • The best TRM programmes will not presume to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Given the variance in destinations, TRM programmes must be able to adapt accordingly, in order to meet the needs of both the employee and the company. Travel managers should ensure that they leverage third-party expertise to help with the more complex aspects of TRM, and that both the organisation and the individual have all the up-to-the-minute information and support they need.

Empower your people
Employees that need to travel for work should be able to do so with confidence, knowing that their company is providing them full support.

A survey we conducted of business travellers prior to the pandemic revealed that while half of them knew their employer had invested in some form of travel programme to support them on the road, 51 per cent of those weren’t sure what it actually meant or entailed. Of those who knew they had this support, only a fifth actually felt confident using those services in the event of something going wrong while abroad.

The solutions:

  • Tracking solutions, combining itinerary and geo-location tracking, should be part of a robust TRM programme, to ensure employees receive critical support should an unexpected event or emergency occur. Finding the right balance between protecting employees’ privacy and ensuring they have essential protection is essential. Companies must ask permission before putting tracking measures in place and make it clear that in the case of geo-location, employees are not being monitored 24/7.
  • Employee privacy can also be adhered to on the health front, by enlisting the services of a third-party medical provider to evaluate their medical history. In doing so, details on any pre-existing medical conditions remain private, while the employee is granted the protection they deserve ahead of a business trip.
  • Actively involving employees in a robust travel risk management programme is key to success. Communication is an essential part of this, allowing the employee to understand the support mechanisms in place, so they can be better equipped to deal with travel in the COVID-19 era and handle issues that may arise on a business trip – from lost luggage to a major medical emergency.

Getting business travel back on track will require a strong focus on employee wellbeing. In addition to having adequate support, employees must also clearly understand what resources are available, so they have the confidence they need to feel safe to travel.

Although it may take a while, business travel will no doubt return to Asia-Pacifc, whether in part or in full; and when it does, companies need to be ready.

Covid-19 has underlined the importance of health and safety in the workplace; this should also be extended to travelling employees. With the imminent arrival of the new ISO 31030 TRM standard, now is the time for companies to make sure their travel risk management programmes are up to standard.

Todd Handcock is president Asia Pacific at Collinson, a provider of traveller experiences including medical and security assistance, and travel medical services.

He has over 25 years’ experience in managing complex businesses, supporting regional and global travel and hospitality, banking and retail clients.

Prior to joining Collinson, Handcock held senior leadership roles with Kognitiv Corporation, Williams Lea Tag and BT Global Services.

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