Within the last few years, we’ve seen an enormous uptick in terrorism threats and attacks all over the world. In 2014, an estimated 32,700 people were killed in attacks worldwide, nearly twice as many as in 2013 – the largest ever year-over-year increase in deaths from terrorism. Today, the number of people who have died from terrorist activity has increased nine-fold since 2000. These statistics are frightening and, unfortunately, are now just par for the course. However, life goes on and so must business.
This might sound harsh, but the sentiment probably rings true for many travel managers. In two highly anticipated webinars, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Risk Committee and Business Travel iQ addressed the ubiquitous issue of terrorism and underscored the importance of preparation for business travelers navigating this unpredictable and sometimes dangerous world we live in.
The GBTA Risk Committee hosted the webinar, “The Threat of Terrorism and the Importance of Crisis Response,” on Thursday, January 21 – a follow up to their webinar “The City of Light Illuminates The Threat Of Terrorism and The Importance Of Crisis Response Planning” from last month, which attracted a lot of interest and a large attendance. The webinar included a number of guest speakers, including Europ Assistance USA Director of Travel Assistance, Eduardo Labanca.
The webinar opened with a discussion on the development of terrorism and how “old” terrorism differs from what we know it as today. In the past, terrorist attacks were very geo-politically focused and one could even go as far to say they weren’t really on people’s minds much. Today, however, not only are they happening more frequently, but there is now an increased focus on soft and less predictable targets (i.e., restaurants, concert halls, tourist attractions, etc.). For travel risk managers, terrorism is a constant reality and one that is not going away. So how do we combat this?
Labanca delved into the meat of the subject by describing crisis response and some of the security options that companies have. He discussed the three main pillars that will support any operation in an emergency: monitor, communicate and respond. There are several ways a company can monitor what’s going on in the world. They can follow the news of course, but, as Labanca pointed out, “Companies should also always look for experts in the field that will provide you with enough information and intelligence data about where you’re going.”
Hopefully, most companies with travelers on the road have a travel risk management (TRM) partner like EA who utilizes traveler tracking tools. Companies are encouraged to adopt these types of tools as they minimize the amount of time it takes to locate and verify the safety of travelers, should an incident occur. In terms of communicating with their travelers, companies can be proactive or reactive – but the best ones are both. If an incident does occur, companies need to respond effectively. A response plan needs to be deployed and the necessary stakeholders and resources need to be engaged and coordinated. Labanca emphasized that companies need to recognize the important features in a travel policy that will set them up for success so that they are always prepared, adding that if it hasn’t happened yet, it certainly will.
Catherine Rigby, Global Travel Program Manager at CFA Institute, rounded out the webinar by offering some perspective from the travel manager’s point of view. She asked important questions like: Do you know if your travelers are in harm’s way? Can you make arrangements quickly to get them to safety? Do your travelers know how to respond in the event of a crisis? Rigby closed with providing some helpful resources to all webinar attendees.
In a similar webinar that Business Travel iQ hosted on Friday, January 22 – “Traveler Tracking in a Post-Paris World” – experts Matthew Harding, CEO of Drum Cussac, and Lyndsey Atkins, Marketing Director of TMC Reed & Mackay, also discussed the ever-growing importance of a comprehensive TRM program and effective traveler tracking tools for companies with traveling employees.
Moderator Mark Frary opened with a pretty though-provoking question: Is the world getting more dangerous? All signs point to yes, unfortunately. Harding explained, however, that there are factors we also must take into consideration. For instance, 78% of all deaths and 57% of all attacks occurred in just five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. Most business travelers are not traveling to these extreme high-risk countries, fortunately.
Nonetheless, they too echoed that traveler tracking is now more important than ever. Harding discussed a few different types of traveler tracking – from routine procedures such as itinerary tracking to more technologically advanced methods like dynamic travel monitoring solutions. Atkins added that traveler tracking is more advanced now than it has ever been. With these advances, however, also come challenges. The distinction between the privacy and safety of travelers has become blurred and is very much an issue in the corporate travel industry sphere. The heart of traveler tracking is to protect your company’s people, and yet most people don’t want to be tracked when they are doing ordinary things.
Harding and Reed considered what companies need to do to balance the corporate business agenda and their travelers’ rights to both safety and privacy. They also delved into some other hot topics in the corporate travel sphere, such as the emerging trends of “bleisure,” open booking and the shared economy. These issues sometimes add to the difficulty in tracking travelers, but the added benefits for employees make these forces that must be addressed regardless of company policy.
The threat of terrorism will continue to play a pivotal role in the TRM industry. If one thing is for certain, it’s that terrorism isn’t going away. As both webinars demonstrated, traveler tracking and monitoring is a fundamental piece of any travel program – though it isn’t without its challenges. There are still those who worry about privacy infringements, which is why all travel managers need to have a serious conversation with their travelers so that they are all on the same page. Ultimately, most will find that their safety and security is far more important.