Business travel is increasingly commonplace, projected to grow at a steady rate of 3.7% yearly through 2027. In particular, Asia-Pacific (APAC) is the region driving this global growth, outpacing the rest of the world with a 6.8% growth rate, led by emerging markets like China, Hong Kong, and India.
Today, APAC is the world’s largest business travel market and contributes around 40% of the global business travel spend. By extending networks and building relationships, business travel not only benefits individual business growth but is also a catalyst for global growth—facilitating investments in supply chains and logistics that support international trade.
Traveling for business in an uncertain world
Risks are inherent and unavoidable when employees are on the move. The 2017 Global Peace Index showed the world has become significantly less peaceful in the past decade. Terrorism, political unrest, coupled with natural disasters and epidemic outbreaks have pushed traveller safety to the forefront of business leaders’ agenda. These add on to the day-to-day risks faced by the travellers such as injuries and contagious diseases.
While such risks are not new, they are increasingly harder to predict—certain destinations that were once perceived to be safe havens might become the target of an attack tomorrow. In fact, 79% of survey respondents expressed concern about travelling to specific destinations. As the cost of doing business increases with such risks, there is an increased urgency for businesses to act upon it.
Is Asia doing enough to keep employees safe?
Costs aside, governments around the world have also mandated traveller safety to be the responsibility of employers. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Corporate Manslaughter Act can render company directors personally liable for the safety of their workers when they go overseas. Similarly, in Singapore, the definition of “workspace” in the Workplace Safety and Health Act extends beyond the employee’s primary workplace, such as the office, and encompasses anywhere employees are required to carry out work duties. These reflect the rapidly changing and expanding work environment. More importantly, it is a stark reminder that the legally-binding boundaries in ensuring the safety and security of employees travelling for business have increased exponentially.
Yet, APAC as a whole is still playing catch-up with their Western counterparts in ensuring duty of care for employee safety when they are on the road. In the United States and European Union, nearly three in every four businesses now have a travel risk management plan in place, with four in five saying that their plans proved effective after being tested by unexpected events such as the Brussels bombings.
In comparison, there is lack of systemic enforcement for travel risk assessments and emergency action plans in APAC. In general, Asian businesses still need to be educated on the value and importance of prevention in travel risk management—the need to be more proactive than reactive. Considering that natural disasters could become more destructive in APAC, where a person is already five times more likely to be affected than in other parts of the world, it is paramount that Asian businesses start to reassess their travel risk strategies.
Need for personalisation — a deterrent to fulfilling duty of care
When it comes to fulfilling duty of care obligations, businesses have to pass the litmus test of gaining visibility into the travel itineraries of today’s mobile workforce.
At the core of the changing business travel environment is the voice of the traveller; their expectations, driven by their experiences, have shifted the needle for a more personalised travel experience. Today’s tech-savvy business travellers are consumers too and seek the same convenience and choice across work and play. As businesses strive to meet their needs through mobile and flexible booking options, employees’ rising behaviour to book out of policy raise safety risks for employers—denying them access to the employees’ travel and location information.
The high requirement for on-trip changes, taking place in a volatile world, further creates blind spots in travel itineraries that employers may not be privy to. This raises a red flag in safeguarding employee safety, as businesses are unable to get in touch with employees to help them out of harm’s way at critical moments. A more sophisticated tracking and support program for travelling employees is necessary to circumvent such issues.
Communication key to improving duty of care
With the myriad of risks that business travellers face, it is important for businesses to understand and sympathise with the fears and anxieties faced by road warriors. Communicating the available risk protocols and assistance services to travelling employees is the first step in alleviating concerns and improving duty of care. Notably, maintaining clear, consistent and easily available communication channels with business travellers when they are on the road is equally necessary—43% of respondents in a recent travel risk survey has indicated that the greatest challenge in mitigating travel risks during a recent crisis was communication.
As much as communication is key, it can only be effective if and when businesses can pinpoint a traveller’s location and dole out advisory in a timely manner. Visibility into travel itineraries, active monitoring and speedy response in times of need thus need to go hand in hand. Doing so through traditional means—calling up travel agents or trawling through email booking confirmations—can take hours or days, longer than what emergency situations allow for. In response, businesses will need to broaden communication channels; such as using messaging platforms or social media to connect to travellers in the most timely and native way and equip employees with means to easily communicate back.
Leveraging technology to put personal safety as a priority
Locate, communicate and mitigate, no matter where your employees are, regardless of time of day, are some of the most important considerations for businesses drawing up their duty of plan policies. To get around traveller’s direct booking behaviour, travel and expense management platforms can be well-suited to the task as they capture all travel-related data in a single platform.
Through analysing flight and hotel bookings, as well as food, entertainment, and other purchases, valuable details on the employee’s whereabouts can be derived accurately and speedily. Progress in geo-localisation technology is also enabling businesses to accurately pinpoint the employee’s location. By cross mapping behavioural data with the geographical location of an employee and viewing it through the lens of geo-fencing, businesses can delineate the employee’s activities in a delimited perimeter. Then, tap on messaging platforms for better channels of communication with the employee during a crisis situation.
Often times, personal safety becomes top of mind in the immediate wake of an incident but can quickly end up being overtaken by other businesses priorities vying for attention. However, risk management should never be an afterthought, nor a tick-in-the-box exercise. After all, employees are a company’s best assets and the travel policies can become a key differentiator when it comes to attracting talent. Having a travel risk management policy in place and regularly reviewing it not only give both current and potential employees a peace of mind, it also keeps employees engaged, motivated and productive while growing the business network during business travel.