Business Travel Safety Tips for Travel Managers and Employees

March 3, 2020

Business travel can be profitable, empowering, and inspiring. It can also be risky. Travelers face threats such as injury, theft, natural disaster, and even political upheaval. Most such threats are statistically remote, but others may be surprisingly common.

Statista shows that 10% of travelers have had their smartphone lost or stolen during travel, and 4% faced suddenly vanished passports. According to Kensington, 15% of surveyed IT professionals had had their laptops stolen in an airport. More alarmingly, data from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) reveals that 83% of female travelers report experiencing “one or more safety-related concerns or incidents while traveling for business in the past year.”

Businesses can and should take every feasible measure to protect their travelers from all manner of dangers. At the very least, a set of formal recommendations can go a long way toward making sure that every traveler is able to stay focused on keeping their journey rewarding and enjoyable. The following suggestions can help those recommendations take shape.

Getting Around Safely

Sometimes, getting from point A and B during business travel is no harder than getting around at home. Other times, minimizing travel risk can be about understanding how transportation abroad requires different considerations.

·       Advise travelers to always confirm the driver’s name and license plate before getting into a rideshare.

·       If relying on taxi service, try to pre-book, as this is safer than hailing some random vehicle off the street.

·       Be aware of how local driving customs can differ from official driving laws, and don’t put your travelers too far out of their comfort/expertise zones. For example, this author endured the nerve-wracking experience of taking a taxi at night in Egypt, where horns are constant (and thus meaningless), lines and rules are ignored, and drivers intentionally forsake the use of beam lights because, as our driver told us, they drain the car battery.

·       Weigh factors such as drunk-driving laws, regional vehicle safety standards, and road traffic injury/death rates. Sometimes, it’s better to pay more so travelers don’t need to drive or ride between their hotel and the event venue.

Cultural Considerations

Flashy can be fun, but business travel may not be the time for it. This goes beyond being “business appropriate.” Travelers should be sensitive to cultural norms, including:

·       Conservative clothing that is culturally appropriate. For example, showing unnecessary skin may be frowned on (including men wearing shorts), and some cultures may take offense to women appearing in public without a head covering or scarf around the neck. While violations of this may not be a safety risk (although they can be in some places), they may very well impact the ability to communicate and conduct business.

·       Accepted behavior and etiquette. How much eye contact is acceptable? Should one be on time, early, or late? Is it polite to refuse something – or accept it on the first offer? And (most problematic for some Americans) what is an acceptable volume level for conversations? Every culture has its own behavior norms. Make sure travelers research this for their destination, especially if positive business outcomes are desired. (Fun side note: Check out these Austrialian tips about American culture.)

·       Remember religious observances. Different religions have different holy days and different practices, and travelers should be sensitive to these, especially if those practices differ from their own. Travel managers should be careful not to place travelers into situations that are likely to conflict with their own practices.

Staying Healthy

Travel and health are not always the best of friends, although steps can be taken to improve the odds of a comfortable, productive trip.

·       Vaccinations. Different areas contain different bugs, and nobody wants to spend what should have been a productive business trip feeling terrible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintain a great starting page for finding out which vaccines travelers might need at their destinations and whether to get routine, required, or recommended vaccines.

·       Local gastro-intestinal ailments. From “Montezuma’s Revenge” to “Bali belly,” many people contract what is commonly called “traveler’s diarrhea,” often characterized by fever, vomiting, cramps, and/or diarrhea. Often caused by E. coli, this sickness is often encountered in developing countries. Risk can be minimized by only eating cooked foods and avoiding tap water. Symptoms generally last from three to seven days and may be mitigated with medicines like Pepto-Bismol and oral rehydration salts.

·       Different destinations will have different types and levels of emergency services. When journeying to areas with minimal emergency services, contracting with a group such as International SOS can provide a safety net of advice and assistance for travelers.

·       Don’t ignore government advisory sites, such as the U.S. Department of State travel and individual country information pages. Some alerts should be known but don’t make it into news headlines.

·       Get familiar with International Association for Medical Assistance for Travellers (IAMAT) site, which offers a dizzying amount of information about health conditions and resources in countries around the world.

Female Safety When Traveling Solo

According to that same GBTA survey, barely half of female business travelers share their itinerary with friends and family. As a general safety practice, someone should be checking on travelers at various points of their trip. And if something goes amiss, that third party should be able to communicate that itinerary to authorities in case the company’s travel group is out of reach.

Other women-centric tips include:

·       Consider the environment. While we generally advise staying in reputable hotels with security, any type of stay should take into account the surrounding neighborhood. Almost by definition, areas with lower crime rates should be safer.

·       If booking a homeshare (e.g., Airbnb), consider reserving the entire home or apartment rather than only a room.

·       Consider traveler training for women on issues such as sexual harassment and kidnapping. (Unexpected fact: Despite media-driven impressions to the contrary, United Nations data shows that police-reported kidnappings are over 20 times more likely in Canada than Mexico.)

Hotel Room Safety Tips

Sometimes, life can look a bit like a thriller novel. Especially when traveling abroad, one never quite knows whom to trust and whether people have been paid off. Often the value of data exceeds that of any tech hardware, and “black bag” jobs can be carried out against travelers, wherein their documents are photographed, copied, and/or relayed to outside parties without the traveler knowing anything was ever touched.

·       Don’t leave laptops, briefcases, or anything else with sensitive materials unattended. Using the room safe is better than nothing, as is leaving such materials in a locked suitcase.

·       Room safes and locked luggage won’t hold up against lightly skilled, bought-off room service. Whenever possible, encrypt all data, whether through free software such as BitLocker or portable USB drives. Encryption will thwart nearly all data thieves.

·       When dealing with physical valuables: 1) Consider costume or off-brand jewelry for travel and leave the good stuff at home. 2) Trust a hotel’s safe deposit boxes more than your room safe. The contents of hotel safes may be covered by regional liability laws.

·       Bolts and privacy latches on primary room doors should be effective, but for extra security (including on the joining door between rooms) consider a travel door alarm.

·       Restrooms are favorite locations for snatch-and-run theft. Do not leave personal items, especially purses or backpacks, away from you, such as on a clothes hook.

·       Hotels do not specialize in IT security. As per Norton, confirm the access point to which you should be connected, make sure you’re only navigating on secure sites, and avoid typing in your password (in case hackers are tracking keystrokes).

Finally, and not least of all, create a proactive travel risk management plan for your travelers, not just a vague duty of care statement. For large enough enterprises, it may make sense to contract with a third-party travel risk management company, which will have expertise and resources that go beyond those of most TMCs. A solid travel risk management plan can include all of the above points and many others. Make sure your company has a solid plan in place for workers, prepare them well, and help guide them through years of fruitful, low-risk business travel.


Deem Editorial

The Deem editorial team brings important, informative commentary and data to travel managers and everyone interested in technology and the corporate travel industry.

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