Considerations for International Travel
Covid19 and the policy responses that have followed from national governments and international bodies have more or less ended international business travel since February 2020. While the restrictions imposed on travel and movement might begin to loosen in the coming months, the longer-term impact of the crisis will be with us for many years.
Whatever the timeframes, when restrictions are lifted and companies start to travel, Duty of Care responsibilities and Travel Risk Management have never been more important, ensuring that those willing to travel are supported from both a medical and travel safety perspective.
The number of travellers are likely to be fewer and travel more expensive, and the days of “bleisure” travel may be over; but some essential business travel will need to resume eventually. At the same time, employees’ expectations of the support their employer gives are likely to be much higher. This applies to before and during travel and, just as importantly, upon their return should they have to self-quarantine.
A robust and comprehensive Travel Risk Management programme is essential and will need to address several issues that are likely to emerge. With some airlines already planning for resuming flights in the summer, here are some of the areas that organisations should consider.
Reassurance Assuming you have rejected the obvious alternatives to a face-to-face meeting with an international partner – such as video conferencing – the first step is to reassure your travelling employees that the risks they might face are manageable, and that you’ve done everything you reasonably can to ensure they are properly prepared.
Uncertainty There is a lot we still don’t know about the virus itself – even basic things like how it is spread and how fatal it is and to whom – with anything like the degree of confidence we’d normally expect before making decisions that could directly affect the health of our employees.
This lack of certainty is exacerbated by the wide circulation, particularly on social media, of well-meaning but inaccurate or intentionally misleading material, as well as opinion and speculation, or the virus’s incorporation into well-established conspiracy theories.
As a result of this uncertainty, there is anxiety about the safety of even the most mundane activity, such as visiting your local shops, let alone international travel. It’s never been more important to be able to access objective, accurate advice from a health and medical risks specialist, and the kind of reassurance that could provide might make all the difference.
‘Reasonable concerns’ about ‘reasonable requests’? Having said that, there are various reasons why some people might still not want to travel, and these will seem reasonable to those people: your policy might also address the issue of how to manage employees who choose not to even where all appropriate steps have been taken; and identify staff who could undertake the trip instead.
The future of air travel Traveller anxiety, along with guidelines from international and independent bodies, will significantly alter air travel in particular. Of the commercial carriers who survive the loss of revenue during the ‘lockdown’ period, there is pressure to ensure cabins are as ‘virus proof’ as possible, which seems very likely to transform the experience of air travel. With more stringent pre-flight medical screening extending queues, ‘social distancing’ increasing boarding time while reducing the number of seats per flight, PPE making already unpleasant economy travel more uncomfortable, and fewer carriers operating on fewer routes, ticket prices are almost certain to rise significantly – even as the appeal of air travel declines.
Even the very low oil price is not much of silver lining, as it is likely to rise again as other sectors of the economy resume. National carriers and state-owned airlines might be somewhat insulated from this, so long-haul trips between major hubs might be less affected; but low-cost short-haul business travel is probably several years away.
Understanding the COVID-19 restrictions If you decide that you can still afford international travel, and you can find a carrier to move your people, the next issue will be to understand the risks from COVID19 and the restrictions in place – along with the other risks you need to consider as part of your normal pre-travel preparation.
Key questions are identifying the entry requirements, such as medical checks, at the destination; the quarantine restrictions when they return, which might cause significant domestic turbulence; and the nature of any movement restrictions affecting onward travel in the destination country.
Response Consider what to do if an employee fails any screening before boarding or develops symptoms while travelling. If this occurs before the return trip, this could significantly drive up costs, even if they don’t have the virus. Does your Insurance provider cover these costs? Do you have access to trusted advice from a travel assistance company? Additionally, with some countries moving to a system of localising restrictions, you will need to think about how you would support a traveller who finds themselves caught out by a change, either renewed restrictions in the destination country, or a change to entry requirements at their country of origin.
Consider the impact on destination country service providers As the hospitality sector has been hit very hard in most countries affected by COVID19, ensure existing service providers – such as hotels, car services or, in some destinations, security and local responders – are still functioning, and can support you. Moreover, have they adapted their services to ‘the new normal’ – like deep cleaning between occupancy and introducing ‘social distancing’ on the premises – to the extent that you would expect?
Accommodation and subsistence Your policy should also address the viability of ‘shared economy’ lodging services, the use of ‘friends and family’ accommodation, and guidelines on taking meals in the hotel where social distancing means fewer tables – or even that bars and restaurants are closed.
Deterioration of security situation while travelling Destinations affected by COVID19 could also be experiencing other issues thrown up or exacerbated by the effects of the virus. The relationship between economic development and security is complex, but countries experiencing a significant recession or depression, particularly with high rates of youth unemployment combined with inflation of essential goods, could be vulnerable to a range of additional security issues, from higher rates of street crime to social unrest and increased political instability. Anti-foreigner sentiment has already been reported in some countries, and could emerge in others, either spontaneously or as a result of government or media rhetoric, or even deliberately created by hostile information campaigns exploiting people’s susceptibility to such ‘moral panics’.
Blending in..? Additionally, in many complex environments, the relative scarcity of international travellers already makes them quite visible, and therefore potentially vulnerable. As international travel contracts, it could become harder to ‘blend in’ – one of the core principles of personal travel risk management – in many other places as well. ‘Safety in numbers,’ always something of a two-edged sword, also becomes harder: whether it is moving around, finding a place to stay or just exiting the arrivals hall, you become easier to spot and potentially to identify. After all, this person is important enough to be undertaking expensive international travel, and thus it’s likely that the business is important, it it’s probably worth at least watching them to gauge their vulnerability to a range of potential criminal acts.
The dynamics in every country will be different, so access to reliable, accurate and timely information and analysis will be just as important as ever. The best TRM providers will have access to ‘ground truth’ focused on the practical impact of the issues, and will be responsive to specific requests for information and advice.
Examining these issues in some detail and reflecting them in your travel policy will give you a much sharper focus on how you define ‘essential travel,’ how you know when to undertake it – and how you provide effective support to the employees you are sending out.
See how Securewest and our technical partners Safeture can support you. Safeture have launched this Global Restrictions tracker service to help organisations to open up for business again, providing reliable information to help make the right decisions. The content is constantly monitored and updated in real time by the Safeture analytical team. https://spheretravelrisk.com/covid-19/
The map includes information about area lock-downs, quarantine measures, flight restrictions, school closures and links to more information.
We can also support you through Covid-19 Risk Assessments and also through Safeture’s Employee Exposure Tracker.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more.