5 considerations for effective travel risk management


As we start a new year and look ahead at the next twelve months, there’s no denying that the global risk landscape is on high alert. The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Israel/Hamas conflict are centre stage and having a ripple effect across their respective regions. Add to that the increasing threat and prevalence of extreme weather risks at a global scale and there’s more need than ever for organisations to protect their people as they travel and work overseas.

To help businesses plan for travel-related risk in 2024, we’ve compiled five key considerations to guide and support businesses in weathering the storm.

1. Don’t underestimate the weather

A quick scan of news headlines in the past fortnight reveals instances of extreme weather - snowstorms in Munich disrupting hundreds of international flights, the passage of Cyclone Michaung over India and catastrophic flooding in Eastern Africa that has caused hundreds of fatalities.

Until recently, extreme weather has been under recognised and downplayed but is now featured heavily in the built-in feeds into our news aggregators and open-source intelligence feeds that analysts are monitoring 24/7. Our latest Risk Radar report alone revealed that 43% of risk professionals see extreme weather as the biggest risk to their operations by 2030.

Low risk environments are increasingly experiencing natural disaster events - the 2021 flooding across swathes of Western and Central Europe are a good example. Some extreme weather is easier to plan for, such as the hurricane season months in the US and Caribbean. Others like the Turkey and Morocco earthquakes this year are harder to plan for.

Climate risks continue to change and so it’s important to re-evaluate continuously - stay abreast of the latest developments using data from multiple reliable sources and be wary of misinformation.

2. Prepare with crisis management planning & training

Waiting for a crisis to happen before putting a plan in place is a common mistake and prevalent risks can be minimised by developing specific plans to deal with them. Crisis planning should identify the characteristics of a crisis and subsequent intervention to minimise all these risks and facilitate recovery.

The cost of not planning ahead can be catastrophic to a business. Most importantly, it can compromise the health, safety and wellbeing of employees if staff aren’t adequately equipped to deal with situations. Take a traveller on a deployment in a high risk, remote area in a medical emergency. Without sufficient first-aid training, being several hours from a hospital puts them at risk.

Incidents can present damaging financial costs to businesses, for example not having insurance in place to cover security assistance or a medical evacuation can result in significant cost implications for businesses. And we shouldn’t underestimate the impact on reputation, where incorrect responses, could make or break a business.

Organisations not responding to external conflict and regulatory risks face significant risks to reputation and business continuity. For instance, several organisations have faced expropriation of assets and detention of executives in Russia during the past 18 months in retaliation for sanctions related to its invasion of Ukraine.

3. Mitigate global risks to staff and operations with travel risk policies

Travel risk policies are unique to an organisation, but will account for business culture, risk tolerance, operational footprint, countries of travel and management responsibilities for a travelling workforce. We recommend an approach that encompasses the three stages of travel, which includes some of the below considerations:

Before travel

  • Has the traveller received appropriate staff training?
  • Has the traveller followed the correct booking and approval process?
  • Have the correct risks been identified for a trip?
  • Has the traveller received a full security brief?

During travel

  • Is the traveller receiving welfare checks pertinent in high-risk destinations, where violent crime, kidnap or unrest are more prevalent?
  • Are airport transfers and ground moves being handled by a dedicated, vetted driver?
  • In higher risk locations does the traveller have dedicated security arrangements in place?
  • Is the traveller’s location being monitored by passive and/or active tracking?
  • Are incident management procedures in place to address situations as they arise?

After travel

  • Has there been a check-in with traveller after they’ve returned?
  • What mechanisms are in place for the traveller to feed back on the travel management process?
  • Is this information fed back to travel risk teams for improvements?

4. Get ahead of location-specific risks by planning your evacuation and emergency responses

Developing comprehensive plans to extract your staff from challenging operating environments is essential to ensure their safety and wellbeing. A plan should look at staff exposure, infrastructure, routes, ports of departure, operational issues, and the escalation signals ‘triggers’ that indicate a deterioration in the local operating environment.

Evacuation Plans prepare for prescient medical risks and for dealing with evacuation planning in political and security situations. In recent years, we’ve seen a step change in businesses preparing for a possible evacuation, since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan increase to get plans in place ahead of the onset of conflict. Just six months on from Afghanistan takeover, with the Ukraine conflict unfolding, similar organisations were reaching out much earlier to have plans in place to evacuate staff.

We are also now seeing a focus on China and Taiwan, particularly because as an island, evacuations are easily blockaded which significantly reduces the feasibility of evacuation options. Similarly, a situation between North and South Korea requires complex logistical planning with South Korea being located on a peninsula.

5. Take steps towards mitigating personalised risks

A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to risk management should no longer be the case. It is about recognising the distinctive circumstances and characteristics of each traveller – no two people will have the same level of exposure or vulnerability to risk. Factors like travel experience, demographic profiles, and mental and physical health all play a pivotal role in shaping individual risk exposure.

The approach to risk management changed radically as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with individual questions arising around being pregnant or asthmatic. It called for a more personalised view on business travel risk to ensure that each traveller is equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to navigate their own unique risk experience.

Building a personalised risk profile requires a strong bond of trust between business and traveller so that it is robust and effective. Building that trust is not always easy when information can be sensitive. Businesses must find honest and transparent ways to gather sensitive personal information from employees, while making every effort to keep that information secure.

Ultimately, it is impossible to eliminate all travel risks, but proactive planning and a cautious approach can significantly reduce potential hazards. By incorporating these recommendations, travellers can maximise their safety while enjoying working overseas.

Risk Radar 2024: Dare to Prepare

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David Grant
Senior Regional Security Coordinator - ECIS
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