Risk and the business traveller—Fall/winter print edition

How to manage the unexpected

January 18, 2013
by By Michael Power
Travel management, security and procurement experts met at Travel Management Canada’s and Vision 2000 Travel Group’s thought Leadership Roundtable on risk management in corporate travel on November 7. Vision 2000 Travel Group is a leader in travel management solutions providing a comprehensive range of business, vacation, meeting and incentive travel services. Vision 2000 is the country’s largest independently owned travel management company. With a staff of almost 300 travel professionals and over 25 locations, Vision 2000 Travel Group is recognized as a driving force in the travel marketplace. For more on their services, visit The following is an editorial report based on the roundtable conversation.

Sponsored by:

Our roundtable participants from left: Tanya Racz; Jacques Thibault; Sherry Marshall; David Hyde; and Brian Robertson.

Whether it’s the threat of terrorist action, natural disasters such as flooding, earthquakes or tsunami, or flights cancelled due to technical malfunctions on a plane, corporate travel carries with it inherent risks for both the business traveller and the organization that he or she is travelling for. But there are steps organizations can take to mitigate those risks.

When the dangers and risks associated with travelling for business get mentioned, several recent situations come to mind. The 2010 eruption of Iceland’s Mount Eyjafjallajökull and the ash cloud it sent across Europe, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan or Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012 that hit New York all added complexity and a layer of risk for employees travelling on business. Illness, potential terrorist action, civil unrest and cancelled flights can also present challenges to businesses. Perhaps more than ever, organizations and their employees must consider the risks that those travelling on business face on the road. But there are strategies, technologies and resources that can help mitigate those risks and offer travellers a safer and more productive experience.

On November 7, our roundtable panel met at Travel Management Canada’s offices to discuss those and related topics. At the table were: Brian Robertson, chief operating officer at travel management company Vision 2000; David Hyde, the owner and principal consultant at David Hyde & Associates; and Jacques Thibault, president of technology company Magnatech. Joining the conversation via teleconference was Tanya Racz, president and CEO of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Canada. Travel Management Canada editor, Michael Power, moderated the discussion.

Do your duty
The group started with a discussion of duty of care, an issue central to the notion of keeping travellers safe on the road. Duty of care is a legal standard requiring an employer to exercise “due diligence” in taking all reasonable steps to protect employees from foreseeable harm. In the context of business travel, the ability to demonstrate due diligence is key to avoiding claims of employer negligence if a travelling employee suffers harm.

David Hyde stressed the legal obligation inherent in the concept of duty of care, noting that it has a long history in the law. He also pointed out that, in the context of travel management, duty of care involved taking “reasonable steps” to protect the safety and security of employees, that doesn’t include “all possible steps.” The definition included the concept of protecting employees against risks that were “foreseeable,” Hyde said, and the list of factors that organizations can foresee is changing constantly.

“Duty of care isn’t a linear concept or a frozen-in-time concept, but it’s something that’s going to dynamically change over the course of time,” he said. “And that’s very important, particularly for larger organizations that are sending employees around the world. It’s not a one-shot deal, where you get your duty of care plans and policies in place. The risks change and the factors change, and the laws change, so the concept of duty of care is an evolving one.”

The importance given to duty of care within organizations has increased in recent years, noted Brian Robertson. As a travel management company, Vision 2000 considers duty of care (along with cost savings, compliance and convenience) as one of the cornerstones of what they offer and what organizations require. “Over the last, I would say, 10 years, duty of care has been slowly rising to the top,” he said. “As a travel management company, it’s part of our duty to be able to advise these corporations of where their travellers are at any given moment.”

But while duty of care has become more important in recent years, the question of who should ensure that duty of care for corporate travellers had also risen in prominence. Ownership of duty of care sometimes becomes a “hot potato” within organizations, noted Hyde, with no group taking real responsibility. The most successful travel risk management programs tend to have an understanding of the importance of duty of care from the executive level; yet that C-suite support is all-to-often missing. Bringing together multiple departments, such as HR, security, legal, health and safety and procurement, to form a steering committee can help ensure duty of care is addressed fully within a travel context.

“It shouldn’t be HR alone,” he said. “There ought to be a committee there providing expertise. HR isn’t necessarily going to know that a certain area has become much more dangerous.”

Duty of care can seem overwhelming to organizations new to the area, Hyde said. But, he added, Canadian law makes it quite clear what an organization’s obligations are to its employees. As a general concept, duty of care falls under tort liability—a generic form of liability. There’s also a robust legal framework under occupational health and safety law, both at the federal and provincial levels. Those laws make it clear that organizations are obligated to understand the risks employees may encounter and to mitigate those risks. Employers must ensure they’ve assessed any dangers, whether at home or abroad. The definition of a “workplace,” he said, applies whether the employee is working at his or her office in Canada or travelling overseas.

“It follows the employee around,” Hyde said. “It’s wherever the employee is on work-related business. And it’s not just during the workday. It’s also attending functions in the evening. If you’re flying abroad to go to a conference, there’s also a duty for the employer to understand that you’re going to want to go out in the evening.”

What elements should go into travel risk management? Robertson noted that it was helpful to have a security officer or someone else whose responsibilities included staying on top of security-related issues. Also, put in place pre-trip education for travellers regarding the location they’re headed to. A third phase involves  the actual implementation of the plan, Robertson noted.

Strategy should be a key element behind a travel risk management policy or program, noted Hyde. Travel is a competitive advantage for organizations, and like other elements within the business, should therefore have a strategic element to it that’s supported by senior management.

The first element to complete, Hyde noted, is a risk assessment. Understanding the risks faced by travelling employees is imperative before a policy or program can exist, he said. Issues like where people are travelling, what are the risks inherent in the locations and other questions should all be addressed first.

“Once we have that risk assessment snapshot, we can then move forward into developing a policy and, flowing from that policy, we can develop a program,” he said.

Hyde agreed on the importance of deciding how to deal with risk control pre-trip, such as what kind of education travelling employees should receive and what rules need to be implemented around travel. Next, it’s important to look at what needs to be in place during travel. At this stage, several other issues arise: What communication tools do travellers have? How to deal with an incident? Do travellers have local support and local ground transportation to remove them from a location?

“All of these pieces fit in for a broad travel, risk management program, but it all flows from this risk assessment that really is that first step,” he said. “Without doing that assessment, the travel risk managment program is not really going to be aligned with the business and the risk.”

Having a risk management policy in place is a great idea, but what if an organization’s employees fail to abide by it? How can those organizations ensure that travellers comply with the policies put in place by their employers?

The department responsible for an organization’s risk management policy—whether it’s HR, procurement, or another area—must place an emphasis on mandating that policy, Robertson recommended. Without an emphasis on the safety and security of those travelling on behalf of an organization, on-the-road employees can more easily fall off the radar, he noted.

Also, using a travel management company offers benefits, added Robertson, since everything an employee does while travelling can then be tracked and reported on. That benefit extends beyond simply booking an air ticket and includes car, hotel and ground transportation as well.

“If the traveller is following policy and doing what the company has asked them to do, staying in approved hotels and using approved ground transportation, then all that is tracked,” he said. “When something happens in the world, our critical incidents team can take action. We can report it to the traveller, to the travel coordinator, to whoever the company has deemed responsible.”

While people—and the skills they bring to the job—are crucial in ensuring traveller safety, technology and automation play an important part in the process, Robertson stressed. An organization may be short-staffed, employees may be on vacation and other human variables may affect how well risk management policies are adhered to, he noted. Vision 2000 can automatically send travelling employees alerts and information about their destinations. The service can also pair up with information provided by overseas security companies to retrieve specialized data for particular destinations.

“Automation is a big part of the protection that travellers need—relying on people alone is insufficient,” Robertson said. “Let all the security people you want monitor this system, that’s fine. But if you don’t have something that’s completely automated like we propose, I think you will have drop-outs and that can turn into a very high risk for certain travellers.”

An increase in the use of mobile devices like smart phones, laptops and tablets has meant a rise in the use of apps that help travellers find information, book reservations and perform other tasks. But that also provides more opportunities for travellers to stray from an organization’s policy framework, Jacques Thibault noted. Now more than ever, employees are free to approach their organizations with a lower rate for travel services than the one negotiated by the company and ask ‘why can’t we use this?’

“The proliferation of apps is creating a huge problem for the travel management company and for the [the employing] companies,” he said. Comprehensive apps produced by companies such as MagnaTech are designed to satisfy the needs of the traveller while keeping them compliant with travel policy. The practice of “gamification” that adds a game-like element to an otherwise administrative or mundane process to encourage people to adopt them, has recently gained traction as a travel policy compliance tool, Thibault noted. Points a traveller accumulates can encourage them to book through approved apps, websites or companies. “Apps are a really great place to have a little gamification going and people really respond,” he said.

But the increase in the use of mobile devices among corporate travellers also offers advantages in terms of risk management, Thibault pointed out. Mobile technology, geo-location and travel management companies combine to help connect travellers like never before. Travellers who are connected through mobile devices can keep their employers and loved ones at home apprised of their location during a crises while overseas, which can work to ease anxiety about their well-being.

“That person is connected. That person is retrievable,” Thibault said. “It’s a more comfortable situation than not knowing at all where someone is when they’re completely gone from the map.”

The move towards “open bookings”—in which employees are free to book where and when they want—can present risks to compliance, said Tanya Racz. To mitigate risks, organizations should use some form of data capture tool if open bookings are allowed, she said. “You still have a responsibility back to your company to let them know where it is you’re going, what you’re on, all of those things, if in fact they need to get in touch with you if there’s some sort of an issue,” she said. “That’s part of the employer-employee relationship, and that’s an HR function in my opinion because it’s then something that’s putting the company at risk.”

Clearly, organizations must plan carefully in order to properly manage risks to employees who travel on business. Issues such as duty of care must be considered, and it’s essential that employees adhere to an organization’s policies. Appropriate data and communication remain critical to any plan’s success. Certainly, issues surrounding travel risk management have never been more important.