Is your risk management approach future-proof?
The past few years serve as an important reminder to always be prepared for the unexpected; and while the experiences were somber, corporate travel professionals around the world can use the lessons learned to permanently change their organization's approach to duty of care...for the better.
It's never too soon to reevaluate your risk management framework. At the end of the day, corporate travel is about people: the people who manage it, the people who book it, and the people who fly. Our primary goal should always be to ensure our travel programs are built to keep travelers safe and travel managers confident.
We sat down with Matthew DeMaris, Global Safety & Risk Product Leader at FCM to dive into some key developments happening in the travel risk management space, as well as some best practices organizations can implement to ensure their risk management approach is built for today, tomorrow, and 2023.
Q. Even though travel has been back in full force for many enterprises, there still may be some hesitation from travelers and travel managers alike. What can TMCs do to help alleviate some of this anxiety?
A. It’s all about finding that balance between service offerings and technology to help travelers and travel managers plan, stay informed, and respond effectively to everything from border and movement restrictions to digital health and testing requirements, and events of sociopolitical unrest. From a technology perspective, that can come in the form of a desktop application for pre-trip planning. It can also come in the form of automated trip notifications to help keep travelers informed about new and changing risks impacting their trip. For travel managers, it can come in the form of automation – how is the TMC assisting travel managers in simplifying everyday tasks? Are they offering streamlined approval workflows or helping organizations locate and communicate effectively with their travelers?
We’ve seen a tremendous effort by the industry as whole to create new and better technology to help restore confidence in travel. But there’s a people aspect as well – your TMC should be your trusted partner - your industry insider, if you will.
TMCs and their consulting services should be working with travel managers to optimize their travel program and ensure the health, safety, and well-being of travelers are at the heart of their risk management strategy. They should also be offering round-the-clock access to experienced travel advisors so that if circumstances in a destination change, travelers can be first in can make contingency plans, including returning home immediately.
That’s the balance that I think TMCs will need to have to restore confidence in corporate travel and help simplify the travel experience. This also isn't a temporary shift, it will need to be a permanent move to keep risk management thorough and secure.
Q. How can a company’s relationship with their TMC influence their travel risk management strategy?
A. More than anything, you want a TMC who you can work with, a TMC whose flexibility and expertise in the travel risk management space can help you solve current (and future) real-world problems. Whether it’s trip monitoring, risk analytics, crisis communications, or it’s helping craft a travel policy to reduce trip leakage, having a TMC with that knowledge really goes a long way.
More importantly, you need trust. Having a TMC that is engaged with risk management, travel assistance, and insurance companies of all shapes and sizes instills confidence in travel managers that their TMC can help them find what fits the needs of their program.
Q. With so many new considerations, have you seen any companies restructure their risk management division or team as a result? If so, what are some advantages to modifying this structure?
A. Yes! I think COVID-19 really made it a priority for companies to engage with their travel departments and bridge any remaining gaps between their HR, communications, security, legal, and travel teams. The advantage is that travel and security teams realized the advantages of having a robust travel strategy that lets the company to view and track their travelers’ itineraries, make agile policy decisions, and help communicate effectively with both their static and mobile workforces.
Q. What about travel policies? Understanding many companies have implemented an interim travel policy over the past year, are there any changes you’ve seen that you recommend are kept long-term?
A. Yes — although I want to say that there is no one-size fits all. We’ve seen companies adopt a number of different policies that fit within their company culture and risk thresholds. The first has to do with pre-trip travel approvals. We’ve seen a lot of companies put in Red Light/Yellow Light/Green Light policies allowing some travelers within the company to travel at will (Green Light), some to require approval or consider a virtual meeting (Yellow Light), and some to reconsider all travel (Red Light).
In terms of long-term policies, there have been a lot of changes that I recommend that companies keep long term. For example, here in the U.S., many companies are requiring that their travelers subscribe to the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) prior to their departure abroad.
There are also a few new ID and visa regulations that are going into effect in the near future. REAL ID in the United States will affect domestic travel for all citizens and permanent residents, and ETIAS will affect all non-European Union nationals when traveling to Schengen countries. While TMCs do not directly handle the processing of these travel documents, they can guide clients on how to get their travelers up-to-date and prepared for the changes.
Some policies require that travelers undergo a risk assessment, training, or at the very least must review the risks posed to them at their destination prior to booking their reservation. Having these assessments and trainings in place for risks such as civil unrest, natural disasters, and other hazards could be key in restoring corporate traveler confidence.
Most importantly, what COVID-19 has taught companies, and what I recommend they incorporate into their travel policy long term, is that circumstances relating to travel can always change, and having a plan in place is key to emerging from a critical incident successfully.
Q. Let’s talk a bit about digital health passports. What are they and what benefits will they bring from a risk management perspective?
A. Digital Health Passports are the industry’s response to public and private demands that travelers be either tested or vaccinated prior to arrival at their destination. Health Passports (minus digital versions) have existed for years prior to COVID-19, from MEDA forms to ICVP immunization cards. The concept is simple at a high-level but can be more complicated the further you dig.
At a high level, digital health passports are a simple way to store your health information. For example, if your destination requires a PCR test and/or various vaccinations, a digital health passport can help store that information so that you can present it upon boarding and/or arrival. The benefit from a risk management perspective is 1) the digital health passport is a contactless solution, and 2) it can help those who have taken the proper health and safety precautions get to where they need to be and restore confidence that those around them have taken similar precautions.
With all that being said, digital health passes still have a few hurdles to leap over. Accessibility is one of them as not all countries have access to digital devices or applications. Data privacy is another. And lastly, fragmentation and verification: If the industry can agree on a common framework to work off of, and there are some really fantastic organizations working on that right now, then digital health passports do have a chance to really help restore confidence in corporate travel.
Q. And lastly, what are some best practices you recommend to clients as they look to build or refine their risk management approach before their travelers get back on the road?
A. Absolutely be making the most of this time to prepare, review, and communicate. If I can leave you with 3 takeaways, I'd say:
- Prepare by having a clear and easily accessible travel policy in place. Be sure that it’s effectively communicated to your travelers so that they know what it contains and where they can access it at any time.
- Be sure to have a risk management team in place with key stakeholders within your organization so that if changes to travel restrictions, entry/exit requirements, or any other unforeseen circumstances arise, you can consult with your team and effectively communicate with your employees.
- Talk to your employees, get a sense of some of the pain points they’re going through and use this feedback to reassess and reinforce your travel risk management strategy.
From a product perspective, this is something we’re doing constantly at FCM - sitting down with our customers, understanding their pain points, and building solutions to solve their everyday problems. That same approach can also be taken by travel managers: building organizational resiliency to help mitigate risks in the long term is the true goal.