International travel is an integral part of doing business in an interconnected world, however increasing global volatility has introduced new security and liability risks to businesses who send staff overseas. Without appropriate risk and security management, companies can find themselves extremely vulnerable to both dangers to staff, and even litigation in cases where the traveller was not provided with the correct level of support. In this piece, we examine ways in which businesses and HR managers can help to keep their staff safe while overseas.
While many of the largest companies have internal corporate security teams to perform destination risk assessments, monitor geopolitical developments and properly brief travellers, this comes at a cost that can be prohibitively high for small and medium enterprises, despite all business being equally as vulnerable. Often, untrained line managers or HR staff are asked to sign off on overseas travel, and by doing so are accepting liability in an area where training and resources are often lacking.
Consulting with an external security specialist can be a good investment for a company’s long-term overseas business strategy, and may even form part of the decision-making process regarding building new business operations in a new territory. The local security environment could also impact sourcing decisions, operational stability and finding appropriate and sustainable routes-to-market. Often, integrating security reviews into the business process can actually save companies from losing money in a territory facing instability or uncertainty, and prevent investment in overseas business development going to waste.
For businesses looking to cost effectively manage travel security for their employees I would suggest specialist assistance with the following steps:
Destination risk assessment
The destination must be reviewed in-depth to ensure the safety of staff. A common mistake is to assume familiarity with a destination based on past experiences, which neglects the changing nature of security environments. This review should be conducted for all destinations, and should include the full spectrum of risks, including crime, armed conflict, terrorism, political, cultural and kidnap threats, and how they relate to your travellers. Hotel and transportation safety must be thoroughly vetted from a security, fire risk, and medical point of view. It should be noted that while many international hotel chains impose stiff safety regulations on franchises, these cannot always be relied upon and should be independently reviewed where possible.
Communications at the destination should also be considered. Will communications be easily available, and are they private and secure? Will sensitive corporate data be vulnerable on this trip? This is especially problematic for travellers to destinations with a history of surveillance of foreign visitors, and can create vulnerabilities to commercial data theft.
Local in-country transportation arrangements should also be considered. Where possible, a reputable car service should be favoured over local taxi and public transportation options. Local healthcare should also be reviewed, and the use of a medical evacuation service should be considered for countries with poor healthcare availability.
Several resources exist to support managers with destination risk reviews, ranging from generic online government Foreign Office/State Department travel security guides, through to the free destination-specific security guides provided here by HowSafeIsMyTrip.
Traveller risk profile
The travellers themselves should be considered, as specific complications can arise in connection with the traveller’s nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender in certain regions. Does the traveller speak the local language? Do they have any special medical considerations? Do they have hostile environment training or experience? Prior to departure, the traveller should be well briefed on the destination risks and how best to navigate them. For higher risk destinations, specialist training is strongly encouraged.
One of the most critical components of travel safety is crisis planning. Prior to the trip, managers must have a clear crisis plan. This should include multiple points of contact within the business who can be called 24/7 in the event of an emergency, who are well briefed on the trip and how to handle a problem. Protocols should be established in advance for dealing with each type of crisis, as crisis management is infinitely more difficult to do “on the fly”. That said, plans must remain flexible and able to change in the face of unforeseen circumstances.
Threat intelligence monitoring
Once the traveller has departed for the trip, it is critical that the individual within the company responsible for travel security continues to monitor for developments that may impact the safety of their traveller. Political, terrorism and armed conflict risks can emerge rapidly, and often with little warning. While the traveller in-country may have better access to local information, they may be focused on the commercial aspect of their trip and paying little attention to local media. Global and local news media can be useful, but can often be late to deliver critical updates. Social media and subscription intelligence services play an important role in the monitoring aspect, but this can be difficult and expensive for smaller businesses to implement on a 24/7 basis.
Flexibility is key with travel security monitoring, and businesses must be willing to change plans with little notice in the event of a deterioration of the security environment. Meetings may want to be moved to the traveller’s hotel should road travel become less safe, security arrangements may want to be “beefed up” in response to changes in the threat environment, and in extreme circumstances businesses must be willing to consider quickly extracting the traveller from the country altogether.
Travel security management should be a constantly evolving programme, and lessons learned from previous travellers should be absorbed where possible. On their return, travellers should be given the opportunity to share any problems encountered, and any suggestions for improvement should be incorporated into future travel security management where possible.
While many businesses will be wary of taking a robust approach to travel security management, and managers may feel that such a programme may become an obstacle to doing business overseas, ignoring travel security risks can be deadly. Staff safety, morale, and retention can be drastically impacted by poor travel management, and litigation can cripple companies found to be placing staff in harm’s way without the appropriate level of support. Where possible, businesses are encouraged to consult with an expert, and to make use of services such as HowSafeIsMyTrip’s business travel security management support packages. This process should be applied to all destinations, and not just those that appear obviously risky.
The author of this article is a former British Army Intelligence Officer with several years experience working and living in Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific in a variety of geopolitical intelligence, travel security and corporate security roles.
The information provided by How Safe Is My Trip Ltd (England & Wales registered company number 10953024) is intended to help you navigate a dangerous world, but is not intended to replace common sense or entirely remove the risks associated with travelling. Unforeseen circumstances are an inevitability with travel and as a result not everything can be planned for. While we endeavour to provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date information, we live in a rapidly changing world where not all risks can be predicted or mitigated against. By making use of the information provided to you by How Safe Is My Trip Ltd, you acknowledge that any dangers you are exposed to by travelling are faced at your own risk. The information provided by How Safe Is My Trip Ltd should not be considered a recommendation in favour of any particular destination. As an England & Wales registered company, interaction between How Safe Is My Trip Ltd, the general public, and clients will be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the England & Wales and shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England & Wales.
Photo credit: Pedro Aragão