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Travel and tourism are a colossus of a global industry. From backpackers to private jets, people from all backgrounds can explore the world in a variety of different ways for several different purposes. Many may associate the mention of travel with leisure – holidays, cruises, or other pastimes. However, a significant proportion of the industry is driven by travel for business-related means.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), business travel expenditure exceeded $1.4 trillion in 2018 – accounting for roughly 21.4% of the global travel and hospitality sector.

Effect of COVID-19 on travel and tourism 

For companies, travel is vital. Aviation, in particular, has opened up near-unlimited opportunities for firms to establish a presence in countries worldwide, while the ease in which individuals can move across borders has become key in many client-customer relationships. However, travel and tourism have been hit hard by various lockdowns, containment measures, border closures, and travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19. That said, the return of business travel is critical for many organizations.

While video conferencing technologies have transformed industries and helped to facilitate remote working opportunities for some, many sectors still rely heavily on trade shows, conferences, events, in-person meetings, and face-to-face conversations as the bedrock of business relations.

According to a September 2020 survey from Globetrender, more than 75% of business travelers said that they would choose face-to-face meetings for sales and pitching over remote working, while over 60% of respondents agreed that the majority of deals and decisions cannot be made virtually.

Travel centric concerns

As vaccination efforts continue to ramp up, travel and tourism are expected to experience something of a revival

It is clear, therefore, that an appetite for business travel remains. And as vaccination efforts continue to ramp up around the world, travel and tourism are expected to experience something of a revival. But companies must proceed with caution.

When it comes to business travel, organizations have a duty of care, making them responsible for the protection, security, and wellbeing of their employees. Any possible risks that could jeopardize the health and/or safety of their staff must be scrutinized thoroughly, from extreme events to common disruptive risks. Previously, many travel-centric concerns were focused on three key areas – operational risks, security risks, and political risks.

Operational, political, and security risks

The former relates to the supply of crucial goods and services such as food and raw materials, hard infrastructure like roads and rail networks, and soft infrastructures such as telecommunications and the internet. These things are vital to the day-to-day functioning of countries, and the businesses operating within them.

Security risks are related to more direct physical threats – dangers such as kidnapping, crime, external conflict, and general unrest – while political risks refer to political cohesion, public agitation, judicial risks, and the overall stability of the political structures that the country has in place.

For companies with assets, operations, or interests in any territory, adverse changes in any one of these key risk areas can create a domino effect with severe consequences. If a new political regime is established and the regulatory environment is changed, this can have a major impact on how a firm has to conduct business, for example. Equally, if the infrastructure is poor and telecommunications and the internet are unreliable with frequent downtime, productivity can be significantly hampered.

COVID-19 risks 

For security and peace of mind, global risk management can help to protect people and companies alike from both the everyday and extreme risks, allowing employees to travel in safety and with confidence.

In today’s environment, however, there is a fourth risk that firms need to consider, not only to avoid disruption but equally to prioritize the health and safety of their employees. This is, of course, COVID-19.

More complex security considerations

For maximum safety and security of employees, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work

First, let’s consider the travel-related implications of the pandemic. Potential restrictions need to be considered – is the entrance into the country permitted at present? And could this change shortly? If the entrance is permitted, what are the medical requirements? Is a negative COVID-19 test needed, or a period of quarantine? And once you get there, are there any curfews that need to be considered? Or locations with different restrictions?

Even if the answers to many of these questions pose little by way of potential disruption, this does not paint the full picture. Because of COVID-19, risks are high in parts of the world that have historically been considered the safest for the first time in a generation. With this in mind, companies need to consider the viability of travel on a case-by-case basis.

It’s one thing saying that it is safe to go to a specific country, but for maximum safety and security of employees, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Unique circumstances need to be accounted for so that no person is put in a position where their health or safety is placed at unreasonable risk. At the same time, these circumstances must be tied in with more typical security considerations.

Balancing risks with concerns

Consider Myanmar where there has recently been a military coup, Germany where there has been devastating flash flooding or South Africa where there is significant upheaval and riots.

While a country might have low virus cases, that is not to say that there are no other risks. This is where the travel risk environment has changed – organizations now need to balance the evaluation of virus cases with more traditional operational, security, and political risks.

Advice on responding quickly and appropriately

COVID-19 has shown businesses to have processes and policies in place to be proactive rather than reactive

In this sense, the pandemic has added complexity to business travel – yet this is not necessarily a bad thing. Many companies previously treated crisis management as a box-ticking exercise.

There was a perception that crisis management was usually a case of preparing for the things that were never going to happen. Yet in the past 18 months, companies found themselves in a situation where they simply weren’t equipped to appropriately deal with the consequences of the pandemic.

In this sense, COVID-19 has been instrumental in instigating long-lasting change within the industry. It has shown that businesses need to have processes and policies in place, so that if there is a major, unexpected incident – be it a global terror attack or pandemic – then they are ahead of the curve, and able to be proactive rather than reactive. 

Risk management

Having a risk management partner can pay dividends. Risk management service providers can help to empower companies with key insights and critical advice, enabling them to react quickly and appropriately to developments in their regions of interest, and keep employees safe and secure.

Situations can be assessed in terms of severity, and advice can be provided in terms of the potential implications, or necessary actions to take. 

Breaking security situations need to be analyzed, to ensure any impacted assets or employees are advised on the appropriate course of action.  Combine this context with planned processes, and companies become well placed to react both quickly and appropriately to global developments.

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Andrew Devereux Associate Analyst, Special Risks, Healix International

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