During the height of the pandemic, most organizations ceased business travel altogether. Others elevated authorization for business-related trips to the highest c-suite levels, ensuring a top-down view of costs and potential reputational ramifications of traveling when others weren’t. Regardless of the approach, very few companies actually did a risk assessment on traveling in a profoundly altered world, nor developed contingency plans. They simply restricted travel and used their existing travel policies and approval processes to guide them.
We have learned much from the follies of these companies.
Today, it’s clear business travel needs to be strategically aligned with an organization’s business continuity planning. The pandemic upended travel, creating new and significant health, safety and security risks – and organizations now face heightened threats to personnel health, data and cyber security, and business continuity and reputation, among others. All can affect legal, compliance, and duty of care responsibilities.
Surprisingly, some organizations continue to revert to pre-COVID travel management strategies, despite these new realities. Some have even shed the approval from CEO to first-line management approvers, who in many cases are trying to delegate the process to subordinates.
It is critical appropriate rigor is applied to travel planning in today’s travel environment. The right people, with the commensurate authority, should be involved. This process should not simply be a pass-through without true reflection on the lessons learned from the pandemic.
Here are 10 steps for returning to travel any organization should follow:
- Develop a comprehensive travel policy consistent with today’s travel environment: A well-defined policy should outline expectations, requirements and guidelines for travel and incorporate safety measures, cost considerations, and sound approval processes.
- Clearly communicate the policy, along with any current destination-related guidelines and restrictions: Businesses and organizations must provide clear and concise information on protocols, as well as destination-related travel restrictions, safety protocols, customs and customary expectations, and relevant updates. This ensures travelers have up-to-date information to make informed decisions.
- Conduct ongoing risk assessments of traveler destinations: Businesses should evaluate the risks associated with business travel on an ongoing basis and develop management systems and safeguards to minimize them. This involves assessing destination safety, transportation options, accommodation standards, health and security risks, and the business activity of the traveler.
- Provide health and safety training: Businesses should offer training programs that educate employees on health and safety measures both during travel and at the destination. This includes guidance on hygiene practices, vaccination requirements, personal protective equipment (PPE) use if required, and awareness of local health issues, mandates, and resources.
- Offer special guidance to digital nomads and bleisure travelers: Organizations should include policies to address hybrid work conditions for the emerging work-from-anywhere crowd, including digital nomads and anyone who plans to combine a holiday with work. This includes guidance related to health and safety, cybersecurity, expense management, travel insurance considerations, and more.
- Leverage the latest technology: Businesses should take advantage of advanced travel risk technologies and AI-driven solutions to optimize travel risk intelligence and traveler safety. They should establish systems to provide employees with reliable and real-time information about travel advisories, local regulations, and health resources; this can be accomplished through dedicated travel risk portals supported by mobile apps which allow two-way communication for the traveler, in addition to alerts and destination-specific advisories.
- Implement pre-travel screenings: Besides education, businesses should require employees to undergo pre-travel education and health screenings to identify those who may require additional support, as well as those who may not be ready to travel. Support them in understanding potential risks before the trip, and press pause when the risk to the traveler, or destination or activity, cannot be effectively managed to support safe travel. This is critical to ensure the safety of employees and the communities they visit and supports a completed business trip.
- Foster traveler feedback: Businesses should encourage feedback from travelers to share their travel experiences, insights, and recommendations. This promotes knowledge and lessons learned and supports the continuous improvement of travel programs.
- Continuously evaluate and adapt: Businesses should regularly review and update travel policies, protocols, and procedures based on evolving circumstances and employee feedback. They should stay informed about industry trends, changes in laws (both international and domestic), and best practices to ensure business travel remains safe, efficient, and aligned with organizational goals.
- When in doubt, work with a travel risk provider: Travel risk management requires a business-driven approach focused on identifying and addressing issues as opportunities, and providers offer expertise to help plan your strategy, educate your staff, and help look after your traveling employees, no matter where they are in the world.