Every business travel manager has a duty-of-care to keep their passengers safe, but are we failing entire groups of travellers when we assume everybody experiences travel-risk in the same way?
In a perfect world, there’d be no need for a discussion about whether your gender or place of birth puts you at greater risk during a business trip – sadly, the 21st century is not the utopia we imagined.
The importance of this conversation can't be overstated, but it's one that often flies under the radar in the corporate travel industry because these are issues that often make people feel very uncomfortable.
It's not unforgivable for someone to be unaware of the everyday privilege they encounter. After all, each of us can only experience life in our own skin. That's why it's so vital for travel managers to be comfortable having theses conversations and listen hard when business travellers talk about their lived-experiences of discrimination.
Here are just a handful of the ways that business travellers often report experiencing travel risk differently:
Women Can Feel Unsafe When Travelling for Business
So, it's no wonder the majority of women believe:
- More needs to be done to address the needs of women who travel for business
- Travel programs should take account of their specific needs as women
- Organisations should prioritise suppliers who pay special attention to the needs of women
To their credit, the majority (69%) of travel managers and buyers agree that women face more risk than men during a business trip. Yet, just 18% of policies specifically address this inequality, highlighting the vast gulf between understanding and actively managing risk.
It's hardly surprising then that 79% of women business travellers say they aren’t adequately prepared to deal with incidents of predominately gendered crime like sexual harassment or assault. Perhaps the lack of action has something to do with women making up just 26% of senior management positions in the hospitality, travel and leisure sector in the UK?
With 80% of worldwide travel spend now managed by women there are just two words that organisations need to understand if they don't want to alienate clients - do better!
LGBTQ+ Travellers Regularly Face Discrimination
For many, the idea that LBTGQ+ travellers face discrimination on business trips is completely alien. However, for a large portion of business travellers from the LBTGQ+ community this enhanced risk is all too familiar – as is the list of 72 countries where same-sex relationships are still criminalised.
It's telling that there's little industry outrage about more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ travellers having experienced some form of discrimination while abroad. This can be especially frightening for business travellers because in more than half the world, LGBTQ+people community are not protected from discrimination by employment law.
While it can be very difficult to work against the legal realities in some countries, travel managers should be thinking carefully about how they can be better allies. A key element of this is simply arming travellers with vital risk-information before they go.
This just goes to show that business travel can be a frightening, stressful and sometimes dangerous activity for members of the LBTGQ+ community. Naysayers would do well to remember that it was only five years ago that same-sex marriage was illegal in the UK and some couples were unable to express their love equally.
The Travel Ban
As a travel manager it’s likely you’re familiar with some iteration of the United States’ travel ban, or, as it’s more formally known, Executive Order 13780. It proved to be controversial and confusing on its chaotic inception at the beginning of 2017 and is still just as divisive in its current state, having been subject to several legal battles.
Now, travel into the US is severely limited for citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Venezuela and North Korea.
Even those with dual-citizenship or who haven’t returned to their country of birth since childhood are worried about the effects of the ban, and travellers across the globe are concerned about where the anti-Muslim, anti-Middle Eastern and anti-immigrant rhetoric will lead to next.
Of course, anxieties concerning threats to security aren’t limited to the United States and the travel ban. Geopolitical strife has always had an influence on freedom of movement across borders, but the real-world consequences can be devastating for those who experience them.
Make sure you check out this brilliantly heartfelt article written by Skift Founder and CEO, Rafat Ali, for more insight into the anxieties this can cause.
From travellers being asked to leave flights or subjected to excessive security checks to a wide range of other discriminatory behaviours, many business travellers have reported harassment based on their skin tone, physical appearance, attire, native language or nationality.
Sadly, there’s often no way to prevent travellers from experiencing discrimination based on their background and often it can be impossible to predict – although some groups are definitely less likely to encounter it.
According to analysis by Faith Matters, “non-whites are at least 37 times as likely as a white person to be detained at a port or airport.” Although Muslims and Arabs are targeted most frequently, the study also notes that “Asians are almost 80 times as likely as a white person to be detained at an airport or port.”
As a travel manager you need to ensure you’re taking these issues into account when preparing pre-trip safety briefings. At the very least, it’s vital business travellers understand their rights, with this knowledge often proving critical in preventing unlawful detention and unnecessary safety protocols.
The Struggles of Disabled Travellers
From airports to hotel rooms (via planes, trains and automobiles), you’ll find an assortment of experiences that even able-bodied travellers would struggle to call accessible. For the estimated 15% of the world’s population living with some form of disability this can potentially prevent you from travelling altogether.
As a travel manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that none of your travellers are excluded from having the opportunity to travel for business.
This means you’ll need to have a good understanding of how to guarantee accessible business travel, not just for those with obvious mobility issues, but those with “hidden disabilities” – for example, mental illnesses, chronic conditions, loss of sight or hearing and age-related issues.
One key factor of this is understanding what responsibilities “suppliers” have.
- Both airlines and airports must give their staff training to ensure they’re able to provide direct assistance to people with disabilities and reduced mobility.
- Under EU law, airlines can’t refuse to carry passengers or take bookings on the basis of reduced mobility – except when there are “justified safety reasons”.
- Under EU law, airlines must offer reimbursement or re-routing if they cannot accommodate a passenger because of a disability.
- Assistance dogs must carried free of charge by airlines and necessary equipment (for example, a wheelchair) cannot count against luggage allowances.
- Airport authorities in the EU are obliged to provide extra assistance to passengers with disabilities and ensure that similar assistance is available at their destination – all free of charge.
Hotels, however, are not obliged to meet the needs of their disabled guests. This means that as a travel manager the burden is on you to source accommodation that meets any specific needs your travellers might have.
It doesn’t take much research to understand that risks to business travellers disproportionately affect women, people of colour, people with disabilities and those within the LBTGQ+ community. Therefore, it makes little sense for travel managers to take a one-size-fits-all approach to travel risk-management.
Instead, you can better protect them by simply taking time to understand how some business travellers experience business trips differently. Performing post-travel debriefings after every trip can help you uncover insight into any difficulties they faced and this can be then used to inform travel risk-management.
Equally, it’s vital you don't single out business travellers for “special treatment” unless it's actually needed. Just because a traveller has a disability or is part of the LBTGQ+ community they won't necessarily want to be treated any differently to anybody else.
The best way to know how you should proceed is by opening up a dialogue with each traveller about their specific needs. For travel managers who need assistance understanding these risks or need tips on starting these conversations, there are some fantastic advocacy groups online:
- Stonewalland ManAboutWorld help keep LGBTQ+ travellers safe when travelling.
- Maiden Voyage are experts at protecting women who travel for business.
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission actually offer a free course on accessible business travel.
- Crescent Rating and Travel Noire provide extensive information about how people of colour experience business travel differently.
- Emerging Horizons, Accessable and Disabled World are all great sources for news about accessible travel.