Travel managers and corporate travel agencies are key contributors to meeting a company’s duty to keep its people safe, healthy, and secure.
A recent survey by International SOS found the travel department among the top five decision makers when it comes to primary responsibility, coordinating responses, and making decisions surrounding duty of care.
“Travel plays a very prominent role in how policies are decided and administered as well as in how they are communicated to employees,” said Suzanne Garber, International SOS’ COO for the Americas, during a webinar sponsored by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE). “Travel is very well aware of duty of care and wants to be in front of travelers in evaluating and mitigating risks.”
Tracking travelers’ whereabouts
Keeping track of travelers’ whereabouts and contacting them in case of emergency almost always falls to the travel department, Garber added. What the travel department doesn’t know can hurt.
Take the educational institution that had about 200 students in a Middle Eastern country in 2011. The school ordered an air evacuation through International SOS, but when the flight arrived, only about 10% of the expected passengers were waiting to leave.
Or the oil company that told International SOS it had about three dozen employees to evacuate from Libya last year. The evacuation team eventually found 5,000 personnel who needed to leave. In both cases, the travel department had no idea of the true situation on the ground.
“In about 25% of cases, your corporate senior management has no idea they even have people on the ground in these areas and no way to locate them,” she said.
Keeping contact information current
Even companies that think they are prepared for the worst probably aren’t, added International SOS group executive vice president Tim Daniels. The company has found that in large international client contact lists, fewer than half of employee cell phone numbers are current and accurate.
“Email is only somewhat better,” he said. “You’d be surprised at how many travelers have a secretary’s email recorded, which doesn’t do a lot of good when you’re trying to reach somebody at two in the morning on a weekend. Duty of care comes down to some very practical points like leveraging your tools and policies to keep traveler contact information up to date.”
Tracking starts with pretrip reminders
For now, the traveler itinerary remains the primary tool used to track employees, Daniels said. Tracking employees using their smart phones is coming, but geolocation is fraught with privacy and security issues.
Global technology consultant Sapient uses itineraries to identify employees who may travel into risky situations and to keep track of them while they are on the road. Tracking starts with pretrip reminders to load International SOS telephone numbers and websites on phones and other mobile devices.
Booking within the program is vital
The problem, said global travel manager Michelle De Costa, is with employees who book their own travel outside Sapient’s travel program. Anything booked outside the company’s global agency is invisible to the employee tracking program.
In 2010, Sapient mandated all travel to be booked through the central agency. Employees who persist in violating booking policy can lose part of their reimbursement.
Cisco Systems had the same problem with employees booking outside its agency umbrella. Cisco doesn’t mandate agency use, but pushes hard using messages from top management.
“The message is driven from the very top to drive home the importance of booking within the program,” said Carlos Almendros, senior global travel manager.
Both approaches work. Sapient rarely has to dock employee reimbursement because every policy violation gets a personal follow up with the errant employee, De Costa said.
Constant education brings compliance
Constant employee education and communication has pushed non-system booking to less than 1% of the travel spend, according to Almendros. High compliance has helped both companies locate employees during emergency situations.
Other firms are less successful, Daniels said. About a third of companies rely on their travel agency or travel management company to track and locate employees on the road. Just under half of companies, 46%, use a formal system to track employees on the road. But fewer than a quarter of companies, 23%, test their tracking system in a non-crisis situation.
Staging safety drills and tests
Cisco stages an unannounced emergency exercise with travel, security, and human resources every year, Almendros said. The 2011 drill staged a major earthquake in California. Travel not only had to locate thousands of headquarters employees during the drill but also support business functions outside California that would have been cut off from the main offices.
Sapient tests its employee location system twice a year. The first thing De Costa knows of the test is a phone alert to dial into her emergency response team. It’s a way to build internal muscle for the times when real lives are at stake.
Communicate through multiple channels
The key is having — and using — multiple channels to communicate with employees during a crisis, Daniels said.
Internal data shows that companies relied heavily on email and direct cell phone calls during the string of crises in the Middle East, but companies with multiple channels did a better job of keeping employees safe. That means using email, phone calls, text messages, contacting employees through their hotels, using a buddy system that pairs travelers with a local employee, and other strategies.
“Having multiple channels of communication, having local contacts for your people, all play into being able to communicate during a crisis,” Daniels said. “Duty of care cuts across many functions and offices. There is no one way to meet those communication needs.”