A starter kit to travel risk management beyond COVID-19
First published: 8 July 2020
Last updated: 16 February 2022
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed travel dramatically and redefined travel risk management to a whole new level. What started as a seemingly harmless virus has escalated into a global storm within a couple of months with corporates and their travellers trying to make sense of the new normal in travel risk management. As the impact continues to evolve, it is important to watch, listen and learn from each other to ensure we step-up and be prepared to the best of our ability. So how have successful organisations steered travel risk management during a crisis like COVID-19?
How do successful organisations approach travel risk management in a crisis?
This pandemic has caused many organisations to take a step back and re-evaluate their paper-perfect crisis management and business continuity plans. Among them, some of the more successful organisations had the following common denominators:
- A crisis communications team including senior management and key stakeholders from across equity regions and business functions, put together at the onset of the crisis
- Access to accurate and relevant traveller data within the organisation
- Constant review of the organisation’s business continuity plans
- Well managed and controlled employee communications
Keeping employees at the heart of all decisions
It is crucial to understand the state of mind and mood of employees, whether they are working on site or from home. Many businesses find themselves in uncharted waters, having to balance that fine line between ‘business as usual’ operation mode, in addition to caring for employees’ mental and emotional well-being. The most successful organisations:
- Evaluate work from home situations to achieve realistic optimal efficiency
- Keep employees motivated and engaged through internal communications, such as user guides on fun way to keep sane during a pandemic, or how to keep your children busy
- Prioritise communication to prevent mis-information: taking responsibility as a company to allay panic and anxiety by filtering the noise from disreputable sources and provide employees with one true source of information
- Be transparent but also allay a positive tone and narrative to balance negativity surrounding the bleak outlook
It’s also about opening up communications channels with employees from multiple levels and areas of the business to understand their concerns.
Understanding these concerns will enable travel managers to work with their TMCs to implement a travel programme well-suited towards business travel in the new landscape. It will give employees greater confidence and peace of mind to travel again. There are lots of different ways people can experience anxiety and fear, so it’s important to avoid making assumptions and taking a blanket approach.
- Anna Wong, HR Director Asia, FCM Travel
Transformation of business travel beyond COVID-19: Prioritising employees' safety and security
Much as it might sound scary with some resistance from employees to take to the roads and skies, there is no doubt that travel will continue to be an everyday part of many organisations. However, the process and policies of travel vastly differ from what it used to be before the pandemic. So what is travel expected to look like and how can businesses restore travel confidence in their employees again?
Here are eight practical thoughts to give you a quick start into this headspace:
From a company’s perspective
- Be prepared for different travel requirements and restrictions from every country: restrictions could vary between cities even within the same country.
- Geographical re-introduction of waves in travel: align company plans with country or cities’ re-opening
- Review whether your travel technology is working for you, for example facilitating pre-approvals without any additional bureaucracy
From an employee and/or travel manager's perspective
- Process and procedures for health and safety: Ensure suppliers in the travel ecosystem from airlines to hotels and land transportation companies have clear hygiene and sanitation practices and relevant certifications from accredited health safety organisations
- Context-specific, flexible, dynamic and adaptable travel options within an organisation’s policy: to build trust and cyber-confidence
- Re-evaluate expectations across functions moving forward: essential versus non-essential travel continue to come under scrutiny from the perspectives of safety and convenience in addition to costs
- Critical need to be able to communicate accurate data to employees in a timely manner: in a ‘new normal’ business travel world with complex variables, especially beyond COVID-19, there may be varying restrictions for different nationalities in different countries that can change at short notice.
- Consider your existing 'bleisure' policies: before COVID-19, bleisure was a popular topic in the business travel industry and popular in many organisations. If you already have a bleisure policy in place this may need updating; if your company is yet to implement one then post-covid may be the time to support employees’ intentions to reduce health risks from travelling to the same destination twice.
While restrictions continue to change regularly, companies will soon shift their perspective and start to focus again on growth; in a post COVID-19 world there will still be a need for travel to drive businesses forward. As we begin to hope that the resilience of the business travel community will soon bury the pesky virus, what’s important is that we come out of this stronger.
To prepare for this new world of business travel, it's essential to learn what we can from the pandemic. Individuals and companies worldwide might be facing one of the biggest challenges in the history of travel, but this has helped us to gain a much deeper understanding of travel risk management and how to adapt to fast changing landscapes. These are rare and valuable lessons which do not get offered very often.