Business Trips are Back – Let’s Review Travel Risk Management (+ White Paper)

Business Trips are Back – Let’s Review Travel Risk Management (+ White Paper)

Business travel, regardless of destination or means of transportation, is an inherently risky undertaking. From the moment an employee leaves their office or home to embark upon a business trip, organizations must consider, weigh, and plan for potential risks based on the likelihood of occurrence and the potential consequences. 

Here, we provide an introduction to travel risk management and explain travel risk profiles, as well as discuss several resources and strategies for facilitating safe business travel. We discuss these topics in greater depth in our recently-updated white paper, Destination Risk: How Community-Sourced Risk Data & Safety Communications Can Improve Travel Risk Management.

An Introduction to Travel Risk Management

A 2017 survey conducted by the U.K.-based market research firm ​Ipsos MORI revealed that six out of 10 business travel organizers feel that security and safety risks have increased in recent years. Over half of respondents reported that security threats are the most common reason for changed business travel itineraries. 

In addition, a 2020 survey conducted by International SOS indicated that 79% of professionals believe that risks for business travelers will rise in 2021. These risks include but are not limited to: illness; border restrictions; street crime and civil unrest; severe weather; and an increasingly lengthy and difficult international travel visa process. 

New, technology-based approaches to travel risk intelligence and communications are changing the risk management equation. These data-driven approaches are shifting the focus away from incident response and instead toward surfacing actionable insights that can prevent travelers from being caught in dangerous or emergency situations. Over time, analytics based on crowdsourced travel risk reporting can help organizations better understand their enterprise travel risks and become more proactive in the development and management of policies, procedures, and pre-trip planning.

Traditional travel risk management programs are heavily focused on reaction and incident response. While being able to respond quickly to an incident is absolutely necessary, investing in prevention technologies and strategies provides a far greater return on your travel risk management investment. When equipped with the right risk reporting and two-way safety communications platform, your business travelers become a more valuable source of information about travel risks. Their insights can then inform the development of a more timely and insightful travel risk management program.

This is important because not only is employee safety a priority, but travel risks that become safety and security emergencies can be incredibly costly. For example, if an employee becomes seriously ill or injured while on a business trip, an air ambulance may be required to medically evacuate them back to the U.S. or another international location. In the event of this worst-case scenario, organizations could be looking at a medical evacuation bill in the range of $150,000 to $200,000, plus the additional costs for medical care.

Additionally, ineffective travel risk management can result in claims against the organization and lawsuits alleging failure to meet duty of care obligations. These legal battles can be financially devastating. In 2017, for example, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld a $41.5 million verdict in favor of a high school student who contracted tick-borne encephalitis during a school-led trip to China.

Travel Risk Profiles

Travelers today are faced with a wide variety of potential risk scenarios, from terrorism and civil unrest to petty crime, disease outbreaks, transportation accidents, personal health crises, natural disasters, sexual assault targeting lone travelers, and hate crimes, among other incidents. 

Although risks vary from location to location, an organization’s duty of care obligation to prepare their travelers is no longer confined to specific geographic regions or to multinational corporations with thousands of business travelers. On the contrary, travel risk is a critical business continuity issue facing every organization, regardless of company size, number of travelers, trip frequency, or geography.

The majority of U.S. business travelers tend to worry about the high-severity incidents we receive widespread media coverage, such as war, terror, kidnapping, etc. While those events are incredibly dangerous, their probability of occurrence is relatively low. The higher-likelihood risks, according to the leading assistance providers, are routine sickness and severe road traffic accidents. When developing prevention plans, travel risk managers need to understand these high-probability risks and then prepare traveling employees accordingly. 

Additional questions that should be factored into your initial travel risk analysis include: 

  • Does the traveler’s personal risk profile make them more vulnerable to specific challenges in the destination? In certain locations, a traveler’s risk may be affected by their gender, sexual orientation and identification, ethnicity or nationality, personal medical conditions or other factors. 
  • How familiar is the traveler with the destination? If travelers are familiar with a destination or speak local languages, they may be better prepared to identify and avoid travel-related challenges. However, it’s also important to note that familiarity can result in complacency. 
  • How is your organization perceived in this destination? Depending on an organization’s mission and local impact or perception, some will be welcomed and perceived as more friendly than others.

In most cases, the two more important factors to consider when assessing travel risk are 1) travel destination and 2) employee activity. For example, severe weather risk varies greatly based on geographic region. Additionally, an employee who is working in one office building may face less risk of, say, traffic accidents than an employee who is doing regular travel during their trip.

Key Travel Risk Management Resources & Strategies

To remain aware of location-specific risks and considerations, there are several sources that organizations and/or their business travel organizers may consult, such as government travel agencies, travel risk management companies, and employee reports.

Government travel agencies are a good place to find initial information. The U.S. Department of State provides country-specific travel advisories and risk information. They also offer the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service that provides travelers with risk updates from their local embassies or consulates. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), a partnership between the U.S. Department of State and private-sector security organizations, is another resource for global health and security updates. 

Travel risk management companies are another key resource. These organizations not only provide evacuation in the event of an emergency, but also offer ongoing travel assistance. This can include regular briefings, updates on health and security concerns, and support during an emergency.

Lastly, but very importantly, organizations should consider the feedback and experiences of employees who are on location. With mobile safety tools such as mobile risk intelligence platforms, employees can access resources and submit questions and concerns to their organization, regardless of location. Organizations, in turn, can rapidly send location-specific information to employees as concerns or considerations arise. This helps keep traveling employees and their risk management points of contact informed and connected.

Other resources include peer support networks, country-specific government resources, and insight from local contacts. Regardless of which sources are used, travel risk information needs to be assessed and acted upon prior before employees begin traveling. This includes developing relevant policies, creating response strategies, and, above all, ensuring regular, reliable communication between business travelers and organizational leadership so that risk information is easily collected, reported, and acted upon.

To learn more about the travel risk management landscape and how technology-enabled solutions can help, consider our white paper, Destination Risk: How Community-Sourced Risk Data & Safety Communications Can Improve Travel Risk Management. 


Alexandra Brunjes has a B.S. in Neurobiology from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. with minors in Creative Writing and French. She is a published journalist and experienced health and science writer. Her expertise includes risk intelligence, healthcare and neuroscience, and technology.

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