Business Travel in Europe - It’s all about Knowing and Managing the Risks

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Business Travel in Europe - It's all about Knowing and Managing the Risks

One week on from the bomb attacks in Belgium and the travel industry is getting back to normal, or whatever "normal" is in the current climate. So what effect will the recent attacks have on business travel?

In February it was reported that confidence in business travel to and throughout Europe was rising after the Paris attacks in November and a recent GBTA poll showed that more than 90% of European and US business travel buyers reported that their company’s business travel plans were relatively unaffected by the attacks in Paris. But will this trend continue?

Unfortunately, there will most likely be another terrorist attack in Europe at some point throughout 2016, however this doesn't mean that a high degree of risk involved for you while you are travelling.

Statistically, the likelihood of being caught up in a terror attack is still remote: since 2000 far more Londoners have been killed riding bikes in the city than in terror attacks. In USA, the State Department recently reported that the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas by incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2013 was 350. In other words, your odds are greater to be killed in a car crash (one in 19,000), drown in your bathtub (one in 800,000), or be struck by lightning (one in 5.5 million) than to perish in a terrorist attack (one in 20 million).

With this in mind, it is important that we don’t allow acts of terrorism to take over our everyday lives and how we run our businesses, however it's imperative that we mitigate risk whenever possible.

As a Travel Management Company we fully realise that the fire that fuels business owners is the desire to overcome any obstacles perceived to hinder the bottom-line. But there’s no way a sane person can watch the news today and not wonder, “What is the risk of undertaking a business trip overseas? Will I fall victim to a terrorist act?” we would say that the answer to this question is to put your risk in perspective.

The first thing is to make sure you are not so focused on terrorism that you fall victim to the common risks swirling around us every day. For instance, when travelling overseas don’t be so obsessed with where you think an incident might happen (no matter how statistically unlikely) that you select an alternate route that takes you through the last place on earth where you’d want to get a flat tyre in the middle of the night.

Second, minimise the risks you have control over. Stay up-to-date on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office list of global hot spots, and have your business travel professional plan each step, down to the slightest detail (air, hotels, ground and communication).

Detailed planning is paramount because with any type of business travel in these uncertain times, it is all about controlling the risk. And that can start with the simple act of driving carefully on the way to the airport. That way the most likely risk you’ll ever face on your trip is already behind you before you even board the plane.

Obviously there are certain locations around the world where there is an amount of calculated risk, there are certain industries that need to send its employees to work in the world’s ‘hot zones,’ such as the oil and gas industry. Here we recommend that travellers use their common sense. For instance, when you land at an airport stay in the airport until a designated driver approaches you. And companies should make sure they hire proper security, people who know the layout of the region and the political climate. Also, there are apps that can be downloaded to computers and smartphones that give continual updates to any potentially dangerous situations that might arise.

Kidnapping is always a risk when travelling to unstable nations. In some countries it's simply a way to fatten a bank account, and in others it's all about making a political or religious statement. No matter the reason, it is a global epidemic and one that should be addressed before any corporate travel is undertaken.

Corporate travellers also need to realise that a flight on a major airline to get into a somewhat unstable country isn't the problem, it's travelling within the country when there is usually just two options to get 350 miles inland. The quickest option is to take a local small airline which could reach their destination in about 20 minutes. However, these smaller airlines may not comply with the strict safety and service precautions applicable to Western airlines. The alternative is a seven-hour car ride, which will likely take you through a number of security checkpoints manned by people with automatic weapons. Not easy decisions to make.

Fortunately, the recent boom in technology has helped executives travel more safely, as they can now receive electronic alerts regarding risks such as natural catastrophes, labour strikes and changes in flight schedules. And we have not even discussed the one hard-core disruption guaranteed to happen every year in many parts of the world — severe winter weather.

Between Jan. 3 and Jan. 6, 2014, at the height of the polar vortex, U.S. airlines were forced to cancel more than 16,000 flights, or about 17% of flights scheduled, leaving travellers stuck, some for multiple days. And other parts of the world don't fare much better. Less than an inch of snow caused over 300 delayed flights in a single day at Heathrow Airport back in January 2013.

The cost of finding solutions to these situations often can be crippling and costly to a business, both in terms of valuable staff time wasted and the difficulty in finding the time or the resources to source viable, inexpensive travel alternatives.

A large number of companies will enlist a travel management company to monitor global weather conditions so employers can respond quickly when they are alerted to major disruptions in travel, ensuring their employees make it to their destination or can be evacuated as quickly and safely as possible.

Executives should not be afraid to undertake worldwide trips to benefit their businesses. There's a huge chasm between fear and awareness, and that awareness comes through pre-trip education, in knowing what the potentials dangers are in advance when travelling and how to deal with them should they arise. The key is in the steps you take to minimize your company's travel risks. Here are a few important tips:

  • Know as much about the region as possible before arriving there.
  • Make sure your employees use common sense about how to travel safely inland from an airport, what to do at an airport and how to dress so they don't attract unwanted attention.
  • Take advantage of latest technology to potentially monitor volatile situations at the tip of your fingers.
  • In known dangerous countries, protect your top managers, and those most vulnerable, with kidnap and ransom insurance.