What Challenges do TMCs Face in Travel-Risk Management?
Posted by Mike Atherton on 01 June, 2018
There are more people travelling for work than ever before, and, despite the majority of business travellers loving life as a jetsetter, they’re also increasingly concerned about their well-being – a phenomenon Skift calls “permanxiety”.
Fears over passenger safety is nothing new for the business travel industry, and all TMCs owe their clients an almost sacrosanct duty-of-care. But for many travel managers, fulfilling this is becoming more of a challenge than usual.
This is in part due to the increased volume of travellers and interest in previously bypassed destinations in emerging markets. However, the challenge has been hugely exacerbated by the speed at which risks to travellers are evolving.
With the news full of potential threats, including (but not limited to), heightened civil unrest, disruptive extreme weather, lethal epidemics and radical cyber-crime, it’s no wonder business travellers are increasingly worried about their safety.
Keeping Up to Date with Current Affairs
Although a degree in international relations or subscription to Private Eye have never been a requirement for the job, geopolitics play an important role in a travel manager’s day-to-day work – so they’ve always needed a finger on the pulse.
After all, if you don’t know what’s going on in the world, how can you advise clients about what the risks are of travelling it?
Unfortunately, staying on top of things isn’t as easy as it used to be, and keeping up with today’s turbulent geo-political climate takes substantially more time and effort.
From travel bans and trade sanctions to Twitter feuds and tariffs, the last few years have been marked by increasing instability and unpredictability. Often, it seems like world leaders are determined to shake the world like a snow globe just to see what happens when everything settles.
While the entire world waits for the next geo-political grudge to emerge, your business travellers are just hoping they don’t end up caught in the middle of a trade war or barred from re-entering their home country.
It’s safe to say this global tension doesn’t do much for business travellers’ sense of safety. Simply ensuring you’re up to date and contactable can go a long way in reassuring your clients.
Separating Fact from Fiction
Keeping up with it all would be difficult enough on its own, but the rise of “fake news” means business travellers are inundated with exaggerations, propaganda and outright lies.
One positive is that people are actually aware of fake news, but, paradoxically, this means they’re as likely to disregard real reports as they are disinformation – so you’ll need to weed out the lies to better protect your business travellers.
Collecting all relevant and trustworthy information plays a big part in travel-risk briefings, which should be performed before every trip. And any breaking news concerning new risks (or developments to old risks) should be sent to travellers instantly.
Understanding How Threats are Changing
Although threats to business travellers have always evolved, the current convergence of technology, geopolitics, climate change and economic pressures, has created a breeding ground for change. To properly fulfil their duty-of-care, TMCs will need to constantly re-evaluate their understanding of those threats.
An obvious example of this is mental health. Travel-risk management has traditionally only taken physical illness into account, and it’s only now that mental illness is being recognised as something that needs to be considered when planning a business trip.
We opened this article by talking about “permanxiety”, and, while the term was invented for business travellers, it’s one that could be applied to an entire generation – with millennials in the UK described as having the second worst mental wellbeing in the world.
This represents a huge challenge for travel managers going forward, who will have to take into account anything likely to trigger a traveller’s mental health issues. TMCs will also need to have more awareness of the toll that business travel can potentially have on someone’s mental health.
Similarly, terrorist threats, or at least public understanding of them, have changed hugely in the 21st century and have been the motivating factor for the biggest changes to the travel industry. Obviously, terrorism isn’t a problem that is going away any time soon and 45% of business travellers view it as the greatest risk to their safety – so TMCs will need to ensure their knowledge is up to date.
The 9/11 attack transformed Western ideas of terrorism, making it a domestic concern and ushering in a new age of business travel. Following the attack, there were widespread changes to air travel and it now seems unthinkable that there was a time when non-ticketed passengers were allowed past security, and it wasn't necessary for all luggage to be screened.
Similarly, terrorism in the last decade has evolved to circumvent these security measures and methods of attack have changed to include improvised explosive devices and everyday objects like knives, trucks and cars. For many business travellers, the idea of an attacker coming out of nowhere is driving the fear of terrorism. Former head of Belgian intelligence Alain Winants explained this evolution perfectly in the following statement:
“Attacks like New York, Madrid or London needed preparation, logistics and sophisticated material. Although an attack like that of Barcelona or Brussels undoubtedly needs a form of planning, we are far from 9/11, but this is just what gives the feeling of a greater insecurity. The targets now are less symbolic. We speak of soft targets, people going to work, people in a concert or at a sport event. Everybody, everywhere is susceptible of becoming a target and a victim being at the wrong place on the wrong moment.”
Protect Business Travellers from Cybercrime
One of the most monumental changes in risk management in the 21st century has been the emergence of cybercrime as a real threat in the wake of devices becoming increasingly connected. Now, the risk of somebody surreptitiously accessing your data has exploded.
All travel managers should already be including cybercrime in their risk management strategy but will need to continually update their understanding of the subject as cybercriminals change their approach to get around modern security systems.
Without the proper security measures, travellers connecting to public Wi-Fi with any device that has access to an employer’s systems are taking a huge risk, and this is often the route cybercriminals take to gain access to a businesses’ data.
Your travel-risk briefing should therefore include an assessment of travellers’ cybersecurity intelligence, instructions on how best to protect devices and advice on what to do if a breach does occur. TMCs should also be briefing businesses on software and practices that are vital for protecting business travellers’ devices.
Being More Aware of Travellers’ Unique Needs
It’s probably safe to say that traditionally business travellers were essentially treated as a homogeneous group – one that just happened to be straight, white, male and able-bodied.
Thankfully, as an industry, we’re beginning to open up to the idea that not everybody has that same business travel experience and many travellers actually face substantial barriers or complications.
Part of fulfilling a TMC’s duty-of-care is to ensure everybody has equal opportunity to travel for business and therefore you need to understand that travellers from marginalised groups may have different risk-management needs.
There simply isn’t enough room to list all the ways some travellers face adversity during business trips, but here are a few broad examples:
- LBGTQ+ business passengers feeling unsafe when travelling to one of the 72 countries in which homosexuality is still criminalised and people across the entire LGBTQ+ spectrum are marginalised.
- People of colour being much more likely to be subject to additional security checks.
- Women feeling more unsafe when travelling than men.
- Accessible options not always being available to business travellers with disabilities.
It’s also important to consider how business travel is experienced differently by people who may face marginalisation on account of more than one aspect of their being. For example, just as women experience travel differently to men, black women experience it differently to white women and able-bodied gay men have a very different experience to gay men with disabilities.
Don’t worry though, nobody is expecting TMCs to suddenly develop a complete understanding of how different marginalised people may have different risk-management needs – in fact, there are lots of organisations out there who are eager to assist you.
Both Stonewall and ManAboutWorld offer information about keeping LGBTQ+ travellers safe and Maiden Voyage are experts at ensuring women who travel for business aren’t put in unnecessary danger. You’ll find plenty of resources online to help you provide accessible business travel, including this free course from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Similarly, you’ll find plenty of advice and information about how people of colour can experience business travel differently, but Crescent Rating and Travel Noire come highly recommended.
It’s up to you which resources you want to use, but you should at least be asking business travellers about their experiences and considering how to implement their feedback – ensuring you act on any fears or concerns they have.
Most of the major risk-management challenges TMCs will face in the future can be collected under one word – “change”.
Whether it’s geopolitical strife, a shift in social attitudes or advances in the world of cybersecurity, the next significant evolution in travel-risk management will be here sooner than you think. For TMCs to prepare and protect their travellers, they’ll need to invest time and effort in staying abreast of evolving and emerging threats.
The best way to ensure success as a TMC is to keep one eye on the future, empowering you to prepare for new developments before they become problematic. For more information read our roundtable guide to the future of travel management – stuffed full of insight from industry experts.